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Self-publishing News: Amazon To Close Book Depository

Self-publishing News: Amazon to Close Book Depository

In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway takes a look at the end of Book Depository and reaction to the Open Library legal ruling.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi's News Editor Dan Holloway

In this month's podcast, Howard and I discuss the US Copyright Office's new guidance on the use of AI-generated materials in creative works, and ALLi's indie author income survey.

Amazon Pulls the Plug on Book Depository

For all the years I’ve been reporting, this week is the first time I’ve come across people actually discussing one of the news stories I’m running “in the wild” so to speak. But over the weekend, I overheard two of the sellers in Blackwell's discussing the fate of Book Depository. They were speaking in world-weary tones and I caught the frustrated notes as one of them declared, “It’s an Amazon thing.” Which is as good a commentary as you could get.

A former Amazon employee started Book Depository in 2004 in an attempt to make it easier for customers to get hold of any book their hearts desired. Amazon bought the company in 2011 and kept it going. Sadly, that will no longer be the case. Amazon will be shuttering Book Depository to new orders from 26 April and winding operations down thereafter.

It is part of a wider move to cut back on Amazon’s book business. Mark Williams has some suggestions as to what might be next. In particular, he repeats something he has been saying for a while, that Audible royalties will face the chop, and unlimited audio and possibly ebook streaming are around the corner. He takes the position that if publishers protest such a move; they have only themselves to blame for putting Amazon in such a dominant position by a series of capitulations over the years. It's an uncompromising position. But not an uninteresting or, dare I say, wholly unwarranted one.

Twitter Takes Aim at Substack as Substack Takes on Twitter

It’s been obvious for quite some time that Elon Musk’s vociferous advocacy of free expression on Twitter does not extend to expression that includes promotion of rival platforms. A while back, he stopped people putting links to their other socials in their bios. Now Twitter has taken aim at one of the platforms many writers and journalists have turned to. Substack’s recent innovations have sought to make it more than just a newsletter distributor. It wants to provide writers with different ways of connecting, and interacting, with different segments of their audience. The latest of these, released a few days ago, is called Notes. Notes allow creators to share short snippets of thought with their followers. In effect, it has made itself more like Twitter.

Twitter has responded by making it near impossible to interact with tweets that contain a Substack link. It is not possible to like, reply to, or retweet a tweet that has a Substack link in it. It remains to be seen how this will play out. But meanwhile, it feels as though there's never been a better time to be agile in regard to the platforms one uses. Which, of course, has some serious downsides. For years, the advice has been finding a niche, building growth slowly and steadily in a place one knows well. But if that place could disappear or lose value overnight, how do we adapt? We are going to have to find out.

International Publishers Association Welcomes Internet Archive Ruling

The International Publishers Association (IPA) has issued a statement expressing its approval of the recent judgment against the Internet Archive. As I reported, the judgment upheld publishers’ complaints that the Internet Archive’s Open Library breached the US Copyright Act with its practice of Controlled Digital Lending (CDL). CDL is the practice of making a digital copy of a physical book that the Open Library has purchased. The library then loaned either the physical or the digital copy (but not simultaneously, so that only one copy was ever out on loan). Open Library argued that this constituted “fair use” under the Copyright Act. 

The statement provides a handy summary of publishers’ complaints. These focus on the argument that CDL represents, “transmitting entire creative works worldwide without a license and in direct competition with established markets.” This, of course, gets to the heart of how Open Library’s digital lending differed from physical lending. It is truly global in scope. When Open Library made the physical purchase of a book, publishers would not be expected to have consented to that book then being read anywhere in the world. They would have been expected to make a separate or different purchase that afforded them such global rights. Changing the format of the book circumvented that process.

The statement concludes with a summary of what writers' organisations see as the stakes involved in the case:

“At stake are the livelihoods of authors and the statutory incentives and protections that make creative works possible in the first place.”

Can AI Commit Libel?

To paraphrase the line in The Dark Knight, this might not be the AI story the writing world wants, but it might be the AI story the writing world needs. AI can say some fairly outrageous things. And if one were to ascribe to it the ability to feel real emotions, one would say that it does so with an air of utter confidence and a certain insouciance. Nine months ago, my timelines were full of friends playing with Midjourney. Now my writer friends are amusing people with ChatGPT's take on their author bios. From places never visited to books never written, it's a litany of nonsense worthy of Edward Lear.

But of course, it could be far from a joke. Two recent incidents highlight this, and legal cases will seek to establish what, if anything, can be done by whom, if anyone, to put matters right. AI integrations have seen one person recorded as having been guilty of bribery (by misreading a news article) and another stated as being accused of sexual assault (referencing a fictitious source). These are serious and damaging falsehoods which meet all the criteria for libel. Except knowing who has committed the libel and what can be done to redress the damage. We could all be on the wrong end of this. But as writers, we could also be on the wrong end in a different way if we're not careful how we use the information AI gives us. Never has it been more important to check our sources!

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Author: Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40


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