MonthNovember 2016

Free Audiobooks, YouTube, and Copyright

When searching for some of the latest news and developments surrounding the publishing industry, I felt compelled to see what new changes may be surrounding audiobooks. I didn’t choose audiobooks because I particularly like them or am familiar with them, in fact, I’ve never actually used one ever before. To me, audiobooks seemed to have more of a link to the future of publishing for a number of reasons. First of all, an audiobook is a highly accessible type of medium for people of all ages and can be experienced in a diverse range of environments. Secondly, these books fit harmoniously into the age of digital consumption, where readers are more often using their phones to get access to news and current events on the go.

With a set of headphones, readers can not only listen and experience their favourite books while in transit, but they will also retain some sense of individual privacy to the books they are enjoying as opposed to reading a codex version and revealing their personal interests to those who see the handheld book’s cover. Andrew Piper argues that we relate to reading books as individuals, and that it also serves as a form of individuation based on how we do it. Yet, at the same time, when books are placed in social media websites or apps and changed into audiobooks, Piper also argues that there can now be more of a collective association through integration with our shared online personalities.

In this case, we can understand how audiobooks are able prosper, as Piper claims: “How different technologies facilitate or inhibit the act of sharing will be a key determinant not only of their future success, but of the way we think about reading.” (Piper, 2012).

Again, I admit that I don’t use audiobooks at all despite their benefits and effective integration with today’s technology, but I was very intrigued to find out that YouTube (something I do frequently use), has been recently considered one of the five most five useful sources for free Audiobooks.  After seeing this news article, it was then that I realized that YouTube was actually one of the first places that I had ever come across an advertisement for Audible, Amazon’s portal for audiobooks. One of my favourite YouTube personalities was offering a special promotion code to Audible by embedding a sponsored message at the end of his own video content, which was different from seeing the standard types of commercials or advertisements before videos that you could skip over after a few seconds. During this promo message, I understood that audiobooks wouldn’t normally be a free service, and that some sort of subscription-based business model would be in place for the premium audio libraries such as Audible. In fact, Audible is listed among the free sources in the article mentioned above, but the supposedly “free” content is the rotating list of 50 titles in the Audible catalog that only Amazon Prime members will have access to. Essentially, after a 30-day free trial runs out of Amazon Prime, Canadians would be spending an annual fee of $79.00 plus applicable taxes to enjoy their premium audiobooks. A lot of what makes these audiobooks “premium” seems to revolve around the fact that they’re bestsellers, or that they even have celebrity narrated classics to keep listeners even more riveted with their chosen genre of book.

However, audiobooks don’t really need these elements to thrive, as YouTube has managed to prove that truly free access can be the most enticing thing necessary. By adding a YouTube account like AudiobooksFree to an RSS feed, users can essentially create their own basic subscription service of free published content to their hearts content. One classmate in my publishing class has already confirmed that he’s made the most of YouTube to find some of his favourite novels in audiobook form, but he had also admitted to it probably being “totally illegal”.

This is where books seem to begin following in the footsteps of music, which is one of many art forms that has constantly been at war with copyright infringement and illegal downloading during the digital age. There is a great irony to the fact that books are following suit, especially if we consider how music and movies seemed adopt characteristics of the book medium throughout the years by the process of remediation. By definition, remediation is “the representation of one medium in another” (Bolter and Grusin, 1998), and we see examples when we hear terms like “music libraries” or “albums”. Now, however, it seems the tables have turned so that audiobooks are inadvertently adopting the bad characteristics of music listeners by getting tangled up in copyright infringement and piracy because of their popularity online. It should then come as no surprise that authors are similarly going to war over piracy with listeners and fans of their work once it is handed out freely and loses its market value.

The aforementioned article by MoneyTalksNews reveals that many audio books on YouTube belong to the public domain, this means that their copyright laws are most likely expired and over 100 years old, or they could also be forfeited. Alternatively, many other uploaded audiobooks could very well be illegally recorded or shared, which blurs the lines of ethical sharing if users are free to access it and don’t want to know the difference.

Take this worst case scenario for best-selling author Ryan Holiday as a nightmare example, as he recently discovered his own audiobook was free to access on YouTube after reading a comment for his audiobook on Amazon where it was being sold. Holiday was forced to file a copyright claim on the videos of his audiobooks on YouTube that were collecting thousands of views and thus ruining his chance collecting earnings through Amazon. What’s worse is that authors like him are at a massive disadvantage for ensuring that their audiobooks are prevented from piracy through the use of YouTube’s ContentID tracking technology that helps to locate copyrighted material. Normally, only big publishing houses are granted the ability to use ContentID as a preventative measure to locate the illegally shared material on YouTube in the same way that copyrighted music or video files can be. Unfortunately, audiobooks are more often published by smaller companies who aren’t given the same access to this tracking technology, and are forced to hunt down the specific accounts who post pirated material. Audiobooks are also at a great disadvantage to other pirated files like podcasts because they don’t adopt the same practice of having advertisements embedded in them to guarantee some return of revenue.

Therefore, YouTube is a great vessel for the audiobook as it surges in popularity, but for the amount of legal concerns that will arise from pirated content, the website is severely lacking in adequate ways to deal with the negative impacts on authors. The publishing industry has already resorted to outsourcing their anti-piracy efforts to third party companies who help to generate the takedown requests for any e-books or audiobooks that are shared for free. As a result, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) has reportedly doubled its takedown requests in October this year and set a new record from the amount that was sent in at the same time last year. From this emerging trend we can connect back to Piper’s quote about the success of books based on how different technologies can inhibit or facilitate the act of sharing, and especially how it determines the way we think about reading.  Those people who choose to illegally upload audiobooks are contributing to the success of the book in terms of popularity, but are also robbing the authors of their fair share of profits and tarnishing the book industry.  We can relate back to music sharing again because of the way that people are able to easily download whatever they want, but they inevitably contribute to negative implications that will impact the artists and marketplace. Audiobooks can continue to be successful themselves, but as their collective audiences continue to make a habit of cheating their way to free access, the authors will be faced with an increasingly uphill battle to regaining fair compensation.

 

References

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. 1998. Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation.  In Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Holiday, R. (2016). When Will YouTube Deal With Its Audiobook and Podcast Piracy Problem? Retrieved October, 2016, from http://observer.com/2016/08/when-will-youtube-deal-with-its-audiobook-and-podcast-piracy-problem/

Kozlowski, Michael (2016). DMCA Takedown Requests Set a New Record. Retrieved October, 2016, from http://goodereader.com/blog/digital-publishing/dmca-takedown-requests-set-a-new-record

Neiman, Melissa (2016). 5 Sources of Free Audiobooks. Retrieved October, 2016, from http://www.moneytalksnews.com/5-sources-free-audiobooks/

Piper, Andrew. 2012. “Sharing”. In Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 83-108.

 

Print vs. eBooks: Why does it exist, and will it ever end?

It’s a debate that has now existed for a number of years and one that has almost been beaten to death; print vs. digital reading. Which will be the future? Will print books cease to exist? Or will both co-exist peacefully? It’s a topic that will not go away anytime soon, but one I am still interested in analyzing in greater detail here.

First, let’s examine print books. There are numerous articles out there stating that print book sales are on a steep decline. For example, Publisher’s Weekly published an article stating that in the first quarter of 2016, sales of adult books fell 10.3% compared to sales numbers in 2015, and mass market paperback sales fell 25.5% compared to a year earlier. In another article published by Publisher’s Weekly, they state that in a case of déjà vu all over again Barnes & Noble, the biggest book selling chain in the US, is closing another location in the New York area. It was a similar announcement to one made “almost exactly two years ago to the day.”

However, there are also people who state that print books are going as strong as ever. One such person is Michael Kozlowski. His article on Good e Reader states that in the United Kingdom, physical book sales turned up, from £2.74bn to £2.76bn. It’s not a huge improvement, but it’s an improvement nonetheless. Kozlowski in the article also states that “it looks like e-books were merely a passing fad and many people have switched back to print.” He points to numerous statistics such as e-books sales as a percentage of total book sales “fell from 35.9% in April 2015 to 32.4% in April 2016.”

The same is true for eBooks. Many people believe that the eBook is the way of the future, and that print books will slowly cease to exist. An article by Mathew Ingram in Fortune states that e-books are not declining. Ingram states that the stats that say eBooks are dying don’t take into consideration the whole picture; in fact, the market share of established publishers such as Random House has been declining, while sales of independently published e-books have been growing. He even said an article by the New York Times “had more than a whiff of anti-digital Schadenfreude about it.”

However, there are also people who state that e-books are simply a passing fad. For example, Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly takes an in-depth look at e-books sales and their decline. His article states that Publishers found that sales of eBooks for trade publishers fell 14% in 2015 compared to 2014. Going more in depth, it says that the decline of e-book sales is probably because of two reasons. First, reading on a digital device is still an optional thing. Unlike music for example, which has entirely switched over to digital mediums such as smartphones, books haven’t had that same transition. As well, Milliot also mentions something called “digital fatigue.” Digital fatigue can be simply described as a weariness attributable to forced connectivity and excessive usage of screens, drawn from the idea that one does not want to look at an ereader after spending all day likely looking at a computer and smartphone screen.

How did it get to this point?

The debate between print and eBooks is really an extension of a larger debate within society in the 21st century. Is it better to go with new technology? Or is the old way of doing things just as good, if not superior.

We can see this debate in various other cultural industries, such as the music industry. Since file sharing site Napster started to become popular around the year 1999, the music industry has undergone a profound shift. (Side note: Napster actually still exists believe it or not. It’s just evolved into a music streaming site.) Now, instead of going to a big box music store such as HMV, people are buying music online – or more often than not, downloading it illegally. Not only are people getting music differently, but they are consuming music differently as well. 20 years ago, most people listened to music on a CD player or a Walkman; now, most people listen to music on their phones or their computer. Music is now consumed on a digital streaming service such as Spotify, illegally downloading it through a number of different channels, or purchasing it through iTunes.

Likewise with the movie industry. 20 years ago, to watch a movie at go, one had to physically pick up a copy from either a local movie place, or from a big box rental place such as Blockbuster. If you missed a movie when it was in theatres, you would have to wait until it was released on VHS before you could see it. However, that has now changed. Netflix now allows you to watch an unlimited amount of films, for a monthly subscription fee. And of course, you can illegally download films that are still in movie theaters, if you want to watch them that badly.

Now this debate has extended to the book industry. While the way in which books are read has not been decided, the way they are purchased has been. Amazon is arguably the biggest seller of print books, and one of the largest in e-books as well. Big box retail stores such as Chapters-Indigo in Canada, and Barnes & Noble in the United States, are starting to close.

The only difference is, we have yet to decide a winner. Unlike music and movies, the new way of consuming the product has not won yet. Netflix had 70 million subscribers in 2015, and that number is surely to increase in the future. Music is now predominantly streamed online or illegally downloaded. However, as we can see above, print books and e-books are currently in a battle for superiority.

The Future

So as we can see, most people are divided on the subject. Some people believe print books are dying, and some believe they are on the decline; likewise for e-books. We’ve also examined some reasons why this debate has gotten to this point. So what is the future for both? Well, it will probably be a future in which both co-exist peacefully.

First, there is no real convenience to switching to eBooks as compared to print books. Unlike music, digital formats gave way to greater convenience and sharing. With the introduction of portable mp3 players such as the iPod, no longer were you forced to carry around a bulky portable CD player. You could hold thousands of songs in the palm of your hand, and listen to them however many times you want. With the proliferation of illegal music, you could also download music from the past 40 years and have it on your iPod.

Same with movies. Netflix and other streaming services provided a way to be able to watch entire TV shows and movie series without leaving your couch. No longer did you have to physically go out and rent a series of VHS’ and DVD’s. Illegal downloads also allow you to watch nearly everything for free as well.

EBooks do not provide a higher level of convenience that print books. There’s no incentive to switch over to eBooks from print books. An e-book reader is around the same size as a paperback; they haven’t gotten to sizes of iPods or smartphones because it would ruin the experience of reading. Reading for extended period of time on an iPhone is painful; thus they have to stay the same size as books or no one would use them.

Another thing that has played into the popularity of digital music and movies that will probably not translate into digital books is time of consumption. The average song is around 3 minutes and 30 seconds in length, with a whole album being around 1 hour or more. The average TV show is 21-42 minutes without commercials. Movies range from one hour to close to three. This plays into the hands of the digital medium; it’s easily digestible and once you finish one, you can easily move on to the other.

However, it takes much longer for someone to read an entire book. From personal experience, the fastest I’ve ever read a book was in six hours, and that was an incredibly short book. And unlike movies or music, you don’t read an entire book in one sitting; you usually read parts of it at a time over an extended period of time. Thus, you won’t be scouring the internet constantly looking for new material, and won’t be likely to buy or download a ton of eBooks.

Conclusion

In all, the truth between eBooks and print books lies somewhere in the middle. EBooks will probably not change the way that books are read in the near future, but they are not going away either. Likewise, print books are not once the dominant way of reading, but they are not going away anytime soon. The publishing industry has changed; however, unlike other forms of media, the new way of consuming the content will probably not take over quite yet. Both will coexist for the time being.

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