24 July 2012

I got a phone call from the guy who runs TUEBL... (or: Pirates and Bandits Revisited)

publishing.pngIf you didn't see the earlier post, I took TUEBL (The Ultimate E Book Library) to task for clothing piracy in the language of idealism.  I'd also left a voicemail for the guy running the site, and invited him to call me back.  To quote my relevant last paragraph:

Quit trying to pretty it up, and be honest about what you're doing. It doesn't matter how much money you donate, or how many impassioned arguments you make about internet freedom (or how many of them I've said myself, or how many I agree with).  I'm actually hoping the people who run TUEBL agree with me that those ideals are important... because then we can actually start having a conversation about how to make those ideals happen in real life, and evaluating whether or not our actions are helping those ideals become a reality.

Well, he called me back last night. And it was a really fascinating conversation (and potentially productive, as well).  He clearly came down on the side of "pirates" instead of "bandits".  (Seriously, if you don't know the distinction I'm making, click that link.  It's important, but a little too long to summarize here.)

I'm not going to share the entire conversation, but here's some highlights (also serving as notes to myself):

  • I apologized for authors behaving badly. Because really, disagreeing with someone doesn't give you an excuse to be a troll.  He admitted that he wasn't being reasonable online either, since frothy authors effectively ran a publicity campaign for him. 1
  • He told me about how he really does support charity overseas (predominately literacy-based) with the advertising revenue from the site.
  • He told me that he wasn't opposed to the idea of going legit, but would have to still ensure some kind of catalog of books.
  • He told me that a large portion of his userbase comes from developing countries, where smartphones and (slow) internet access exist, but they simply don't have the funds to pay for the eBooks, and nobody else even comes close to serving those people. 
  • Ideologically, we're not that far apart, and he's got some good, innovative ideas... but I can't support him or the site as it exists now because I do not support the copyright violations.
  • The things we brainstormed (see below) could never have come to pass before Kobo opened up DRM-free eBooks and Tor/Forge announced they were going DRM-free.

Some things we brainstormed, that may or may not come to pass:

  • Something like the (now-defunct, dammit) Creative Commons Developing Nations license would allow those of us in developed countries pay for the books, but not restrict access to those who simply can't.  A technological solution (perhaps based off of IP addresses) could enforce this.
  • There isn't an existent library solution that isn't tied to either a store (Amazon, B&N) or to Overdrive (which limits how many people can "check out" an eBook - which is stupid).
  • The possibility of using Flattr or something like it as a way to ensure that authors and publishers get compensated.
  • Corollary to the above:  How would this impact price-matching clauses in Amazon/iBooks/B&N stores?
  • Quite a few people in Facebook comments and elsewhere expressed support for a Hulu/Netflix style of subscription.
  • DRM doesn't prevent piracy.  Because it doesn't.
  • There isn't really a solution except DRM to enforce a true library-style loan of an eBook.
  • Offering a strategy where DRM (to enforce loans) and DRM-free offerings were mixed in some way to subscribers.
  • Using (or even licensing) the download (loan) data to publishers so that they can revise their own pricing and marketing strategies.

And we talked about people he has approached, or could approach.

Honestly, it was one of the most productive conversations I've ever had with someone whose current piracy actions I cannot support.  He seems to be a smart guy with ideals not dissimilar to my own.  He seemed interested in actively supporting (including financially) authors and creatives, but did not want to compromise those people outside of the developed world, and to support charity at the same time.

Let me make this clear: I do not support (personally or professionally) the currently existing incarnation of TUEBL.  However, I do support many of his ideals and the things we brainstormed.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is not being at ideological loggerheads.  That is simply a problem.  And problems only need solutions.

If you happen to be a person with more clout (or Klout - ha!) than I with the established publishing industry, I think this guy is someone we want to talk to.  Give him a listen.  Disagree.  Point out problems with his models - he was open to that with me - and brainstorm solutions.  Hell, I'll join in if you really want me to.

Because while I don't support where his website is right now, I can easily see where it could turn into something truly awesome for all of us.

1 See? Losing your cool over piracy doesn't exactly work out the way you wanted, authors.
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