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Sure, I'm late with snarks tonight, but on the other hand, I seem to be bitter. Doesn't that count for something?

This is try two on this snark. Which is indicative of the day.

I can't really talk about my day job. I can't because first off you don't care, and second off because I like my day job and want to continue to do it. However...

Well, let's put it this way. In systems administration, there are certain things that pretty much anyone with any understanding of the Internet would understand treads into grey or black areas morally, ethically and even philosophically. And sometimes, the administration above the systems administrator decides that... well, the janitor is probably morally, ethically and philosophically opposed to murder, but he's still going to mop up the blood when someone gets whacked in the hall.

So, having had to mop up some blood and bits of brain, I was in a fine fettle when I came across something I could get pissed about on here. And so we're going to discuss it, because I can't talk about the other and you wouldn't care anyway.

I buy stuff from Fictionwise.com. I love e-books. I love carrying around my library on my PDA. I love it and I wish there was more available. And because I buy stuff from them, I get their advertising. It's not really spam because I did, in fact, ask for it.

Well, yesterday, I got a notice that there were "Sherwood Anderson classics" available. Sherwood Anderson, in case you slept through American Lit, was the man who gave us Winesburg, Ohio. Which, I would add, was written in 1919 and is available on Fictionwise. And, as this advertisement mentioned, they also have Anderson's Poor White available -- one of Anderson's most celebrated of novels. And you can buy and download it right there, for just two and a half bucks. Forty cents off if you're a club member.

Great, right?


Which means Poor White is solidly into the Public Domain.

So what. It's available in bookstores too. Amazon.com has it for almost ten bucks. Two fifty-four is a bargain, right?

Guys... another place I turn to for e-books is Blackmask. Blackmask works hand in hand with organizations like Project Gutenberg, adapting public domain works into popular e-book (and HTML) formats.

Poor White is there. For free. In fact, a huge selection of Sherwood Anderson right here. For free. In the same basic formats for e-books, I would add. Including iSilo, which is my book type of choice.

Do I begrudge Fictionwise from making some money from public domain works that you could get for free elsewhere? No. Not really. They're trying to make money. But the idea that they need to charge two dollars and fifty cents, when they could get the text from Gutenberg or Blackmask, process it and slap it up on a server, and then have effectively no costs of production whatsoever, is ludicrous. There's no money going back to publishers. (If there is, someone at Fictionwise needs to be fired.) There's no money going back to the Anderson estate. It's free. I could slap the entire text of Poor White on Websnark if I wanted to.

And it pisses me off that instead of offering that work, and the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, of Charles Dickens, of Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment is three dollars and forty-nine cents to buy from these people! A 19th Century novel that can't cost them two cents in bandwidth for you to download, that they almost certainly didn't have to keyboard or even scan in.) for maybe ten cents apiece, or as freebies if you buy X numbers of current, high cost pieces, they're charging absolutely absurd prices because they figure they'll get a few people thinking they're paying for convenience and that'll be enough.

We live in an era of unprecedented distribution. I have no problem with people making a little bit of money while they do it, but to push the margins so obscenely high on fiction that the public already owns the rights to is just plain ugly. And it pisses me off.

Somewhere, there's a sysadmin coding the engine driving it, and it pisses him off too.

But they just have him mop up the blood and move on.


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Heh. I just earned myself a new client by pointing out that their old web-guys were charging them (a non-profit charity) $200+ a year for an open-source calendar script and the only mod they'd done was to take out the by-lines. I can see charging for installation but once it's installed? -same as the texts, absurd.

Project Guttenberg's had me thinking for a while. That's where I found the text to the Japanese Fairy tale I'm working on illustrating though the license makes it clear that I'm not supposed to mention that as soon as I take it out of the plain vanilla text format. As a better artist than writer, it's becoming a great source for projects.

I doubt they are in fact downloading the text from 'Project Gutenberg', as you suggest; I suspect that the money you pay goes towards the data capture, proofreading and possibly editorial efforts that theydo for themselves rather than simply taking a text of unknown providence from a fileserver somewhere and trusting it.

All editions of out-of-copyright works are not equal.

SK, I don't think you're reading Eric correctly. He's not saying (or even suggesting) that they are downloading the text from Project Gutenberg; he's saying they could. In other words, he's complaining about paying $2.50 for data capture, proofreading, and possible editorial efforts when he could just as easily download the book free (both as in "software" and as in "beer") from another trusted source.

Frankly, I agree with him; although Fictionwise is certainly within their rights to sell copies of a public domain text, as is anybody else, if there's somebody out there who's giving the text away for free, they're probably not going to sell a lot of copies of the text.

I don't see the problem. You can get it free, or you can pay for it, if you think that their work is likely to add that much value.

Me, I would always pay for the Oxford World's Classic edition even if a Project Gutenberg version was available, because I want the advantage of their editorial work that goes into making sure I have the best possible text. If, on the other hand, you just want it cheap, download it free. I don't know whather the text from these Fictionwise people is likely to be of sufficiently better quality to justify the extra price, but it's good to have the choice, isn't it?

SK -- the issue is not that they put no editorial work into the documents. The issue is they are charging disproportionately for the work.

Many current, in-print, under copyright works of similar length are of equal or lesser cost than these. I know. I own a lot of Mike Resnick e-books through Fictionwise. In those works, they have all the same editorial issues, plus the money they have to pay to the publishers and/or the author.

Blackmask does editorial and proofreading work through a distributed model (when you go to Blackmask, it offers to let you "proof a page" if you wish). The quality of text in a Blackmask work and in Fictionwise's products seems to be comperable.

Quite honestly, with the almost complete lack of production or distribution costs in electronic publishing, the possibility that they've accrued even a dollar and twenty five cents worth of attendent production costs is very hard to believe. If they have, then they're marking up by 100%. And quite honestly, that's absurd.

Well, a lot depends on how they allocate costs. If a store buys gadget X for a dollar, and then sell it for two dollars, they don't make a dollar of profit...they have to take out indirect expenses, and probably make more like three cents of profit, for most industries.

In one business model, they might allocate costs to be proportional to direct costs; in that case, something that costs a dollar gets half as much indirect costs assigned as something that costs two dollars. In another business model, both items would get assigned the same indirect costs, which makes the markup on the cheaper item look bigger.

Bob Stevenson wrote "[Gutenberg is] where I found the text to the Japanese Fairy tale I'm working on illustrating."

You know, a truly funny coincidence is that I'm the one who donated that work to Project Gutenberg in the first place. I had an old, old book of Japanese fairy tales I'd found at some old book sale or other, the date put it well within the public domain, and I was sending in some Arsene Lupin novels for inclusion too...so I sent it along.

And now I randomly hear from someone who directly benefited from my own personal act of literary philanthropy...in a comment on a friend's weblog. I love the way this world works sometimes. :)

For what it's worth, I don't have any problem with an ebook company selling public domain stuff, if they put some effort into the preparation and markup. Peanut Press/Palm Digital Media/eReader/whatever the heck they're called this week has been doing it for a long time, too. And note that even the BlackMask.com guy also sells his collection (or at least that portion of it that's pubdom in the USA) burned onto CDROMs and DVDROMs, and he's not exactly selling them at media cost.

Oh, and by the wayˇIIRC, Fictionwise also sells ebooks that are available for free via the Baen Free Library or on the Baen freebie CDs. And Baen readers buy them full well knowing that they could get them for free elsewhere, just because they want money to go to the author/publisher but don't need the print edition. Some folks are just funny that way, I guess.

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