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Room for Lulu to Have an Impact?

While Amazon has made itself the big gorilla in the self-publishing world it appears they are hitting headwinds around their ability to control copyright, including of established authors.

This article recounts how copyright problems have apparently gotten out of control vis a vis George Orwell's opus of books thanks to the willy-nilly way in which self-publishing through Amazon has played havoc with quality control:

How it treats Orwell is especially revelatory because their relationship has been fraught. In 2009, Amazon wiped counterfeit copies of “1984” and “Animal Farm” from customers’ Kindles, creeping out some readers who realized their libraries were no longer under their control.

Orwell resurfaced in 2014 during Amazon’s bare-knuckles fight with the publisher Hachette over e-book sales. Amazon tried to use a quotation by the author — renowned for his moral rectitude — to suggest he was a sleaze in favor of illegal collusion. It turned out the quote was very much out of context.

My newly acquired Orwell shelf was frankly dismal — typos galore, flap copy lifted directly from Wikipedia, covers that screamed “amateur.” Eleven of the books were sold directly by Amazon as new books and were shipped from an Amazon warehouse; one was sold as a new book by a third party. Prices ranged from $3 to $23.

The counterfeits and imports are generally the least expensive editions, and who can blame people for buying those? So they do. A $7.99 legitimate edition of “1984” was recently ranked at No. 72 among all Amazon books. A $5 Indian import was at No. 970, which suggested copies were selling at a steady clip.

Most of the distorted texts are likely due to ignorance and sloppiness but at their most radical the books try to improve Orwell, as with the unauthorized “high school edition” of his 1933 memoir. The editing was credited to a Moira Propreat. She could not be reached for comment; in fact, her existence could not be verified.

“Down and Out” is an unflinching look at brutal behavior among starving people, which makes Ms. Propreat’s self-appointed task of rendering the book “more palatable” rather quixotic. An example of her handiwork came when Charlie, a boastful rapist, described how he lured a young woman into his clutches:

“‘Come here, my chicken,’ I called to her.”

Ms. Propreat’s version:

“‘Come here,’ I called to her.”

It’s unlikely that Orwell, a finicky master of English prose, would have appreciated this editing — nor the fact that all the French in the book is rendered in capital letters, which makes it seem like the writer is shouting at the reader.

Until recently, improving Orwell was not a practical business proposition. Then Amazon blew the doors off the heavily curated literary world. No longer was access to the marketplace determined by publishers, booksellers or reviewers. Even the most marginal books were suddenly available to everyone everywhere.

Breaking down the doors, however, also let in people who did not appear to care about the quality of what they sell. . . .
The full article is available at the link shown above.

Perhaps this is a place where an innovative self-publishing platform can pioneer some stronger controls? Or is digital publishing inherently incapable of editorial/publisher curation?


  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    Using Orwell as an example, the 75 year rule applies to Copyright (and his rights belong to a Holding Company.) One problem is that even though that 75 rule is the case, many old classics appear on sites as free e-book downloads, often just in Txt, which often results in people thinking they have the right to republish them, and make a load of dosh. That resulted in 100s of books being placed on to Amazon, etc., of the same stories. Copyright aside, Amazon decided it was time to delete most if not all of them, leaving mainly the legitimate publishers on line.
  • It's hard to imagine how Lulu, which is essentially just a book production facility, can oversee things like copyright and quality of text...or even why it should. Editorial/publisher curation is the responsibility of the editor/publisher of a book...and Lulu is neither of these. Expecting Lulu to take on such responsibility would be like Simon & Schuster blaming the company it contracts to print and bind its books for not overseeing the content of those books.

    (By the way, when I placed a large number of public domain science fiction classics on line via Baen Books, Amazon required that they have some additional value added---for instance, an introduction, biographical information, etc.)

    Black Cat Studios
  • swmirskyswmirsky Publisher
    Yes it is difficult to see where Lulu could offer a fix. Still, this article points up a problem with P.O.D. and I would think that if someone could they might fill a gap which Amazon has failed to do, thus gaining more credibility for their brand in this field than say some of their competitors can claim. But I don't have a solution, just raising the question! 
  • There might be something Amazon could do regarding reprints of public domain material (which they already do to a degree).
    Black Cat Studios
  • swmirskyswmirsky Publisher
    edited August 2019
    This does point up the value traditional publishers brought to the table, namely the capacity to vet what is published. When they were the only channel, other than expensive and easily recognizable vanity press output, for publishing, prospective readers had pretty good reason to presume that when they bought a published a book it met some basic standards of quality. Of course, there were sloppy commercial publishers, too, and what got published that way was often of mediocre quality (even allowing for the subjectivity that factors into such quality judgments).

    Still, a traditionally published book, at least in our modern era (not applicable more than a century ago, of course, before standards in the industry became more rigorous!) could be expected to have been decently edited (if not perfectly so) and to pass muster in the "read" (even if one didn't necessarily find it aesthetically satisfying oneself -- there are many sorts of tastes in one's literature, after all). But the advent of POD, while opening the possibility of publishing to more of us (many of whom had been unable to secure a commercial publisher) and enabling us to capture more of the revenue generated (if we could do an effective job of promotion and our book caught on)  while also giving us more control (for better or worse), produced serious changes in the industry as we can all see.

    But the POD publishing innovation is a sword that cuts both ways, not only allowing a lot of less-than-optimally written and produced books to enter the marketplace but also flooding the marketplace in a way that makes competition for readership a little harder.

    And now we see this other problem that it's hard to control for quality in reprints and thus for the credibility and integrity of older works.

    I'm not sure how this gets fixed. Maybe the POD model is simply changing things in an irreversible way. But it seems to me that there ought to be some kind of solution to this loss of the old editorial filtering process (both in selection for publication and book preparation) within the POD model.

    I just haven't got the answer myself yet. And perhaps there is none. But there ought to be.

    As I said above, I'm just putting this out there, not offering a solution. Sometimes the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that it's there.   
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    Never forget that as POD users we are also the publisher, and it's up to us to ensure we have a good product, not the responsibility of the retailers our books go through. If you want a good product and cannot DIY then you have to pay someone to do it before it gets to a retailer, simple.
  • potetjppotetjp Professor
    For a reasonable fee, there are educated people who offer to edit your manuscript in view of a POD publication. They correct your spelling and your grammar, but, fortunately, leave your style as is.
  • Never forget that as POD users we are also the publisher, and it's up to us to ensure we have a good product, not the responsibility of the retailers our books go through. If you want a good product and cannot DIY then you have to pay someone to do it before it gets to a retailer, simple.

    Kevin hits the nail on the head here.

    Far too many DIY publishers simply don't have the ability, time or wherewithal to do a proper, professional-quality job on their books...yet expect readers to pay the same amount for their books that they would for a professional, traditionally published product. It absolutely irks me no end to hear DIY authors begging potential readers to make allowances: "Please buy my book even though it really isn't properly edited, formatted or designed, I can't do any better." Nope. If you cannot create a product worth what you are asking people to pay for it, you have no business trying to sell it.

    And it is not up to Lulu or any other printer/distributor to make up the difference. That's not their responsibility.

    Black Cat Studios
  • potetjp said:
    For a reasonable fee, there are educated people who offer to edit your manuscript in view of a POD publication. They correct your spelling and your grammar, but, fortunately, leave your style as is.

    Technically, that's really just copy-editing. An editor will also look at the sense of your book. How well are you telling your story? Do you need to add or subtract anything? Do you need to work on your characterization? Is your dialog believable? Do you need to revise, rearrange, delete, add or change anything in order for your story to be work better?
    Black Cat Studios
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