So there’s Scribd. Trying to reinvent itself. It’s a site that was trying to be Wattpad before there was a Wattpad and it’s not still clear from either site whether there’s a business model there. I suppose there’s something– ad revenue? I don’t know. Anyway, both sites allow anyone to upload documents. Any documents. And there have been legitimate uses of that. Court filings, for example. Other documents in the public domain or uploaded by the actual author. But not always, and now there’s a clear case of Irony Chickens coming home to roost as Smashwords, Scribd and piracy collide.
And then, as just about anyone could foresee, there is lots and lots of pirated material. Books. Lots of novels. Lots. The DMCA says Scribd and other such sites are not responsible for that contact, the user who uploads it is. All Scribd has to do is take down the content when sent a DMCA notice. That’s the state of the law. It is, on the one hand, fair. Because it IS the user who is engaging in the pirating. Scribd merely provides file space.
Speaking not at all about piracy, but only about the DMCA and the ecosystem of pirated content, the problem with DMCA take-down notices is this:
If you’re an author concerned about pirated content, the more popular you are, the more your content is out there. There are authors who have THOUSANDS of pirated copies of their books on Scribd (as an example) and the DMCA says the author must send a URL to each and every allegedly infringing instance. Obviously, this becomes impossible to comply with. No one author has the time to do this. And Scribd, like every other similar site, is not required to self-police or in anyway assist with what becomes an impossible task for an author.
Scene set. Ready?
So now Scribd wants to become a subscription reading service. A publisher or author agrees to have their books posted on the site and readers (subscribers) will pay a modest sum per month to read all they want. From what I hear, the plan is to pay authors for full and even partial reads, if the readers progresses beyond a certain point. Sounds kind of interesting if that’s the way it works.
What I find more interesting is that if you visit the Scribd site, it’s easy to find out what subscribers will get in return for their money.
If you’re an author, however, there’s only a contact form. “We’d love to hear from you!” And you fill out a form where you tell them the number of books you have available, the genre and the format. That’s it. Classic gatekeeper.
In our quest to ensure Scribd subscribers never run out of great books to read, we’re constantly looking to expand our digital library. Please contact us if you’d like to make your ebooks available via our subscription offering. Our content acquisition team would love to talk to you.
There’s NOTHING at the site that tells me, an author, why I would want my content in their subscription service.
I find this language alarming. I think it’s an indication that Scribd sees the author as a resource to be consumed by them, not a business partner. Otherwise, wouldn’t there be something there that says, Hey, Author! Here’s what’s in it for you! That contact page, which you can only find if you clicked on the subscription FAQ and scrolled down a lot, makes it pretty darn clear that Scribd isn’t thinking of authors as potential partners.
If I go to any eBook vendor, I can find out what’s in it for me if I make my books available through them. I know how and when I get paid.
Other than the rumors flying around, where is Scribd telling me how and why I would benefit? If the answer is “Readers!” that’s not good enough. That’s more of the baloney along the lines of “We can’t afford to pay authors, but you’ll get exposure” and someone gets free professionally written content for their website. Or free graphics. Or what have you. If you think you have a service where my books will make you money, then you should tell me how that happens and why and how it makes money for me, too.
I’m getting to the chickens.
Smashwords, a company that allows authors to self-publish books and then sell from the site as well as distribute to other vendors, recently sent a letter informing Smashwords authors that they had a deal with Scribd and that beginning January 1, content would automatically be enrolled in Scribd’s subscription offering. What became apparent when authors went to look was that books were ALREADY opted in and being made available. (That was true of my books.)
It’s my belief that no book distributor should opt-in automatically to some other vendor. This should NEVER happen without the author’s explicit consent and review. First, the distributor does not have rights in the content. The author does. The author elects where that content is distributed. There are cases where authors do not have ALL rights. There are cases where an automatic opt-in could put an author in violation of the terms of a contract.
Further, it’s not cool to automatically opt-in content under terms that may be less favorable than if the author, if she wanted to be there at all, went directly to the vendor. Because, really?
This automatic opt-in by Smashwords is a major misstep.
Authors are well aware that Scribd hosts a massive amount of pirated content. And there are authors who feel strongly that pirated content should be taken down wherever it exists. (It happens that I am not one of those authors, but that has nothing to do with the authors who do feel that way.)
So. Smashwords just opted those authors into a service they know nothing about at a site that hosts THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of pirated copies of their books and gave them no opportunity to think and consider.
Some authors objected to that. They wanted nothing to do with what they consider a pirate site. And they appear to have been told–quite bluntly and directly, “opt-in to this service and Scribd will take care of the piracy problem for your books.” Otherwise, too bad.
That is fucking ballsy.
What the hell did Scribd think would happen? They have a piracy problem. Lots of authors are upset about piracy (again saying nothing here about whether there’s actual harm). Scribd wants to sell subscriptions to books while at the same time continuing to permit users to upload documents where hundreds of thousands of those documents are pirated books.
Did they really not anticipate that authors might say, well, eff you? Because that’s what’s happening.
It’s what you call chickens coming home to roost. I’m sorry, but this was completely foreseeable.