Monday, May 14, 2018

Amazon Kindle Unlimited Encourages Piracy, And This Is How To Fix It

When I wrote about #cockygate making some new authors nervous about titling their books yesterday, I mentioned that the barriers put up by Amazon and other big book companies have led to widespread piracy.

This led to some questions - and accusations. Answering the latter first, I'm not anti-Amazon, anti-American etc etc. I was describing the situation as I see it.

I forgot that many people don't travel and have little idea of life outside the US/UK/EU. 

So here goes...

We don't have a national library system; we're a developing nation. We do have bookshops.

Best Sellers from MPH, one of Malaysia's biggest bookshops
An average paperback price is RM45-RM70, which is US$12-US$18.

Note: a latte in Starbucks/CoffeeBean costs RM12 or US$3 so for us, books are a luxury. Not everyone can afford them.

We see Amazon Kindle offers 1,400,000 books for RM40 or $10. They advertise everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, blogs are constantly harping on how wonderful KU is. It's also in newspapers and on television talk shows, dramas and news channels.

The message: KU is glorious.

We look at all the pretty toys, and we want them.


Problem: many of the best sellers listed on Amazon aren’t sold in shops here. And almost none of the KU books are available.

So we go to Amazon.

We say, "KU is awesome! Sign me up!"
They say, "KU is only available in 15 countries. You're not on our list."

Fact: Amazon KU is available in 15 countries, meaning 180 countries get to look but not touch.

We say, "I have a credit card, verified by Visa."
They say, "Nice. Now, get lost."
We say, "I can transfer the money. In Dollars."
They say, "No."
We say, "I've been an Amazon customer since 1996. I buy paperbacks from you. I send gifts to my friends in the US and UK and Spain."
They say, "Thank you for shopping with us!"

So we get angry.  We feel slighted, discriminated against, dissed.

And we keep seeing the shiny toys and we're told we're not allowed to play.

So when a shop opens up in the mall and offers us the top 200 best sellers at once, for half the price of a latte in Starbuck/CoffeeBean, we say, "Why not? We tried and they told us to f* off. So we'll f* them. Gimme, gimme, gimme!" 

We don't care that the shop is owned by an organised crime syndicate because we're angry.

We don't consider that handing over tonnes of cash to criminals is a bad idea because we're getting our revenge.

So after a decade or more of raking in oodles of cash from ordinary people who'd normally never consort with criminals, the syndicates are so damn rich that they can bribe police, immigration officials, and god knows who else. Crime rockets.

Also, we've lost a little of ourselves because piracy has become normalised.

We know what's right, we want to do right, but we're locked out.

So, want to deal a death blow to piracy and organised crime?
Take our money.

It really is that simple.

Note: Barnes&Noble, iTunes, and other shops won't talk to us, either. Kobo will but the last two books I bought from them didn't show up in my reader, and they don't answer customer service email. As for Smashwords, ask me about them some other time. 

Some book piracy facts
The Guardian thinks 4m or 17% of all online ebooks are pirated. Article here.
Russia puts book piracy at 25-30% - and people don't even realise they're buying illegal books! Article here. 
Africa has a $1 billion dollar publishing industry, and it suffers hugely because of normalised piracy. Article here.

And now, as I said yesterday, I have a foothold left in Europe so I'm bloody lucky to be let into KU. So, I leave you with the usual SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION! 
(Note: if you're locked out, and you want to read my books, drop me a note, okay?)


Sunday, May 13, 2018

After #Cockygate, do you need to trademark/copyright your book titles?

This post is written for young authors, or new authors living in non-kindle countries, who are worried about #cockygate leaving them open to lawsuits and being blocked by American sales platforms like Amazon.  Also, there are tips on creating a unique title.

What is #CockyGate?

Faleena Hopkins who sells novels on Amazon is making lots of claims, including that she alone has the right to use the word 'cocky' in a book title. She's been bullying authors, threatening to sue them, and telling Amazon that her rights have been infringed.

For a short time, authors who had books with the word COCKY in the title on Amazon had their books taken down. Also, because Amazon uses a lot of automated tools, readers who'd used the word in totally unrelated book reviews also found their opinions censored.

Although Faleena is sticking to her guns and making more and more wild claims, Amazon has put the banned books back up, and is restoring the reviews. She's also being challenged legally. (More about that below)

Now, if you're thinking that you have to register your book titles, or that you need to hire a lawyer before you can publish your romance novel, don't worry. You don't need to panic, and you don't need to shelve your dream of becoming a romance author.

Some Industry Perspective
Romance publishing is worth some $1 billion a year in the USA alone. That's lots of lovely $$$ and so everyone is after a slice. While most people are nice, there are a few Faleenas out there.

For those of us who don't live in the US/UK/EU, getting our books out is particularly difficult because Amazon and the other big companies set up barriers that limit our participation severely.

These barriers have had some sad consequences, including the normalisation of piracy in many of our communities. Also, I suspect it has had a knock-on effect on our everyday safety, with pirated goods enriching organised crime gangs.

Disclosure: I'm extremely fortune in having a European base (for now) that lets me get around some of those barriers.

Publishing After CockyGate
I'm not a lawyer, but I've been a full-time writer and columnist for over 20 years. Basically, you need to consider these points:

It's nearly impossible to secure the rights to a single common word. If anyone could get the rights to use a single word, you can bet your boots that some crafty bugger would have claimed the words, King, Queen, billionaire, love etc etc and then demanded tonnes of $$$ from anyone who used those words.

Under very special circumstances, you can get some limited rights to a word and challenge people for using it. For example, you can use the word apple anywhere you want, but if you tried to make Apple computer products, you'd be in hot water. (more on this further below)

Book titles are not necessarily unique. Romance publishing is as old as the hills, and as there are zillions of titles, there's going to be lots of overlap.  It took me a few seconds to find four books called The Lost Heir and there are probably tonnes more.

That's perfectly okay because readers aren't daft. They look at the cover, the author and they read the blurb before they buy.

You'll never understand all the laws. When it comes to publishing, every country has it's own take on what's allowed and what's not. Some countries don't give a damn what happens in our industry, and others are super hot on what you can and can't do.

Companies like Amazon are so huge, that they make their own rules. These are often just as contradictory and confusing as national laws.

You can consult lawyers, but finding one in your country that knows the ins and outs of our niche market will be a challenge. If you're living in a society that's very litigious, then work with an established publishing house.

If you are intending to make your career as an international romance author, this is the rule of thumb that will work for you no matter where you publish: Intentional misleading is a no-no.

If you write a book called The Lost Heir, you're going to have a unique cover and your own name, right? So that's fine. Go ahead and publish. But if you pinch GA Henry's cover and call yourself GA Henry and pretend that you are s/he, that's a different story.

Keep it honest and you'll probably be okay.

Tips For Creating A Unique Title
Until recently, I didn't think too much about the uniqueness of my titles. (That's the thing about publishing, it's a lifelong learning curve!)

#1 Either have a longer title, or create a series to set your book apart. I like short titles because they're easy to remember. However, it means they're more likely to be less than unique.

I lucked out when I wrote the first AJ Adams, The Bonus, because it was unique. Since then, I see Alice Lingard has also used it. It's not going to confuse anyone, but I think it helps that I have a series listed, The Zeta Cartel Novels.

#2 When you have your title, search for similar books. I used to search Amazon but that isn't the smartest thing to do. For one thing, they hide titles from their search results. For another, they don't list books that are no longer in print.

That's how I didn't discover there's another Prydain series published in the 1960s until after I'd published Beast, The Beast and the Sibyl, and Fletcher! Now I search Amazon and Goodreads to see how unique my brilliant title ideas are.

#3 Lean In.  If you discover your title is overused or you think there will be some confusion, ask fellow romance authors for opinions. The community is generally speaking supportive and people like Faleena are very rare indeed. So lean in when you need to.

Learn From CockyGate
I'm learning a lot from this #ByeFaleena train wreck, and if you're planning on working in the industry, you should read up.

For an excellent overview of the drama, check out Jenny Trout's post, Don’t Do This, Ever: Faleena Hopkins Cocks The Whole Entire Fuck Up and check out Courtney!!! Milan on Twitter.

For a short and simple overview in text of how US law works when it comes to trademarks for book titles, read this post by Mark Knight, a US based Intellectual Property lawyer and author.

If you have video, then you should definitely watch this interview with Kevin Kneupper, another US Intellectual Property lawyer who explains why this is such a legal tangle, and how Amazon and other companies tend to react over issues like this. Kevin wrote the challenge to Faleena, so he's a hero in the community :-)

I hope this helps. PM me on Facebook if you have questions, and I'll do my best to answer - or at least send you a link or two.

You might also hit Twitter and look for the hashtags #CockyGate and #ByeFaleena.