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About the Host
Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines 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 on Kindle.
Read the Transcripts: Shadow Library
Hello and welcome to the second of this new format of Self-Publishing News podcasts.
Welcome to a week that many of you will be very glad to hear doesn't actually feature any stories about artificial intelligence, or at least not other than in a very tangential way.
So, the two stories I want to look at this week they feature quite broad issues that affect us.
The first is something that revolves around a term you may not necessarily be familiar with, but a concept that will be all too well known to everyone, and that is the shadow library. So, shadow libraries sound like something, I don't know, like dark academia-ish, something slightly romantic, you can imagine moats of dust through rays of sun and the smell of leather and dust, and seldom opened volumes of ancient lore and what have you. The sort of place where we would absolutely dream of being able to live out our days reading ancient wisdom and indeed writing our own contributions to it.
The truth of the matter is somewhat more mundane. Shadow libraries, essentially, if you were to look at them, they would just be this sort of quacking neon server rooms in the middle of a desert somewhere or up in the arctic circle, or wherever such places keep their server farms. So, shadow libraries is the term that we use for any library that isn't a legitimate source of legitimately gathered books.
So, in the particular case we are looking at this week, they are collections of electronic books that have been put together without due concern for copyright, is probably the best way to say it. Some books may have been bought; most books will have been scanned in as PDFs from copies that have been found lying around. They may have been outright pirated. They may be that people who own an eBook then strip out the DRM and then upload a copy to the library. That's how they tend to work, and then these books are made freely available to anyone who wants to download them and obviously they do so without any consideration for the wishes of the rights holders and without any payments being made to those right holders.
They're in the news this week because one of the largest such shadow libraries, Library Genesis or LibGen, has just been sued by four large academic publishers in America. They've been sued before. They were sued by the largest academic publisher of them all, Elsevier back in 2017, and Elsevier won $15 million.
This time around, they're being sued by Cengage, Macmillan Learning, McGraw Hill and Pearson Education. So, four of the massive hitters in the educational publishing field, which conveys the fact that this is a shadow library whose content is mainly or is heavy on textbooks and academic texts.
Obviously, textbooks have some issues. They are not cheap, neither the electronic nor the physical copies thereof. So, LibGen is really popular with students. As I work here in Oxford, at the University, a new cohort of students are joining us in a couple of weeks’ time, and it's fair to say that there might be one or two of them who might access one or two materials from LibGen.
Obviously, the largest such shadow library in the world is also focused on academic publishing which is SciHub, but these are things that don't just affect academic publishing, and it's somewhat of a red herring to focus just on that academic publishing, textbook publishing side with it with its massive high costs, because that makes it very easy to see this sort of, oh the textbooks cost so much therefore it's entirely justified for students to do this, so on and so on as the argument goes. A lot of such libraries contain a lot of books that are not textbooks. You might argue, for example that Open Library, some people would argue that Open Library is an example of a shadow library, and they obviously contain far more than textbooks.
There have been infamous examples in the past. Ocean of PDFs, which was a shadow library that many authors found their books in over the years, and that was taken down several years ago now.
Interestingly, LibGen hasn't been taken down, and that's one of the things that will be interesting to see what happens now.
So, shadow libraries, it's good that they are in the news because they're not something that are talked about a lot as a thing, but they clearly do affect authors a lot. They affect us, in part because you might say, pirating books steals people's earnings, that may or may not be true, the figures are far from as conclusive as people might want them, whichever side of the debate they sit on, if they're going to rely on figures.
What isn't in doubt is the number of people I see, certainly ALLi members, every month saying, Amazon have been in touch with me, my book's been thrown out of KDP Select, or I've been refused entry to KDP Select because they say I'm no longer exclusive, because Amazon scrawlers have found my book somewhere else. I haven't published it anywhere, but my book has been pirated, and it's appeared in a shadow library, and as a result of that it's been turned down or thrown out of KDP Select, and as a result of that, people are losing their earnings from page reads on Kindle Unlimited. So, this is something that really does affect all of us.
It will be very interesting to see what the outcome is. If it's another small fine, then there will be a lot of people who find that, shall we say, mildly frustrating. But I will make sure that you are updated on what happens. In the meanwhile, it's an issue to be aware of so go and find out more about shadow libraries and find out what you think about them as a result.
The second story is about, it sounds equally scammy and equally dodgy, and it came to my attention when I was looking at the sidebar of the BBC News website. I saw something, I just saw 30-second trick. You know how there are these, sort of, it's usually single mum in, and then insert the name of the place you live, discovers this 30-second trick. It's usually about teeth whitening or, I don't know, get better life insurance deals, or whatever.
In this case, it was actually a genuine news story and not some dodgy advert for tooth whitening products. It was about Spotify claiming that this 30-second trick doesn't actually work.
So, it's a really click-baity sounding title, but it actually gets to the heart of something really important, which is how streaming services work, and how they can be both profitable for the streaming company, so Spotify in this case, and for people whose content is available on those sites.
So, the 30-second trick, you can probably gather what it's referring to, one way that scammers scam streaming sites is by uploading a bit of content, it may or may not be junk. So, we've seen in the news just over this summer, people passing off their work as that of another author, and by work, randomly put together strings of words that are not really work in any meaningful sense, and then getting people to buy them under false pretences. We've seen in the past book stuffing, whereby people have come up with 3,000 pages of utter nonsense and then lured people into clicking a link in the table of contents that takes them right to the end, so they get 3, 000 pages worth of page reads.
In this case, people are uploading content to Spotify and then they are setting up loads and loads of fake Spotify accounts who just play that, or 30 seconds of that content on a continuous loop, and the theory behind that is that if you just play your audio content, or 30 seconds of your audio content on continuous loop, you will very quickly make more money back from pay per stream than you lose from the Spotify subscription fee.
It's the kind of scam that we know happens on Kindle Unlimited. If you go onto any archive of stock imagery, for example, you will see Kindle farms, you'll see these places where people literally just have hundreds of Kindles lined up on shelves and all they do all day long is they click through their own, well, they pay people a tiny amount to click through their own content and scam Amazon out of page reads. But also, because Kindle Unlimited is a limited pot, they're scamming genuine content creators out of their legitimate earnings as well.
So, that I guess is one of the themes of this week. If there is an overarching theme, it's scams that are stopping people earning money from Kindle Unlimited.
Kindle farms we know they're a thing. Spotify farms it seems are also a thing, but Spotify has now claimed that it has found a way to stop people profiting from these streaming farms.
If that is indeed the case, it would be really good news, or really big news, because streaming is a way that people want to get their content; that seems increasingly undeniable. People like the convenience of streaming. They like the fact they can get anything they want. They can dip into a bit of this and a bit of that without having to commit to buying a particular thing. And the all-you-can-eat approach to it, it's a nice and easy monthly subscription, listen to what you want, read what you want.
It's increasingly what we are doing to get our content, but as content creators and as owners of streaming sites, it's essential to stay one step ahead of people who then figure out, actually, because streaming prices, obviously they have to be competitive so they're not going to be very high, so maybe there's a way of setting up fake accounts and scamming people by putting false content or putting some sort of content on there and then finding a way to manipulate the system.
So, content providers or streaming platforms have to stay ahead of that in order to make the business model work, and it seems as though Spotify has found a way of doing that. They obviously can't say what that is, because if they said what that is, then the scammers would be one step behind them, they'd be finding out what to do next. They claim that it's in part to do with how they negotiate with content publishers. It's in part because they can tell who's listening to stuff and how they're listening. So, basically, they're saying they know if you're a scammer. They know if you're a streaming farm if you're listening or they know if you're a genuine listener.
Whether they can or not, I don't know, but it seems like this is could be the start of a fight back against scamming and who knows, maybe that will lead to increased pay-outs for everyone and if that happens, that would be really good news.
It would maybe help all the authors who I know still struggle with the levels of payments that they get on places like Kindle Unlimited, and obviously one of the concerns as Spotify moves into audiobooks, is that getting paid by that kind of platform can be really quite hard because the amount you earn per stream can be really quite tiny.
It's obviously the more that, the more scammers are tackled, the higher the potential pay-out will be because the less pay-out pools are being diluted.
So, some potentially good news in the fight against the streaming scammers, and also some news to watch in the fight against the copyright scammers. So, there's definitely a theme to this week's news, and I look forward to joining you next week to see what the themes might be then.
In the meanwhile, have a lovely rest of your September.