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It was a cold, rainy morning in town this morning – the sort of day that seems to stall around dawn and gets no lighter. Traffic was jittery, the carparks twitchy with panicky shoppers anxious to get that last space so they could go buy their Christmas tat. I only wanted breakfast, almost fell foul of the season of good-will, but managed to find a slot on the edge of town, then shouldered the rain and headed back in to the greasy spoon.

The town is impoverished, has been since the crash, and getting steadily worse – always looks worse at this time of year though, the people poor and mainly elderly, the doorways camped by homeless looking wretched. I don’t suppose it’ll get any better than this now, but on the upside there was a guy in a giraffe suit dancing for charity. It was pouring rain, and he was a big yellow smile, the brightest light by far and a gesture of jolly defiance. What a star!

I bought a 0.7 mm Staedtler propelling pencil for £6.99 to replace the one I keep losing – a good piece of kit. Same price on Ebay so nothing to be gained there, plus it’s good to get out, even on a bad day, look around, even if it’s only to see what the latest storm of economy and season has done to my town. And yes, I know, shopping on Ebay doesn’t help matters. Greenwoods is the latest casualty – there since 1880-something, now abandoned and looking almost derelict. The landlords are crippling these businesses. I wonder where they do their shopping?

The Charity bookshop that inspired my latest novel was also closed – insufficient volunteers to man it on Saturdays now. I was going to put my name forward when I retired – quite fancied it actually, sitting there in tweed jacket and brogues, an ageing hipster, preserving for my town that last flicker of bookish vibe. Looks like I’m too late though. Damn.

And speaking of that novel, brings me to the shameless self promotion bit. Home from town I shut the weather out,  cosied up with coffee and hit the laptop. Saving Grace, as it’s now calling itself, went up on Smashwords and Free Ebooks this afternoon. I’ve enjoyed the ride, like I always do, and this last bit always leaves me with mixed feelings. It’s like putting it in a bottle and tossing it into the sea. You never know where the currents will take it.

I’ve been serialising it on Wattpad for a while now, but it’s not had much of a following. Those of you who have read and commented and queried my errors, (you know who you are) I thank you. Time to take a break from the long form now though while the next one gestates.

In the pecking order of Austerity, otherwise known in older parlance as “class war” I’m still in the fortunate position of relative security and money to spend on fripperies and without killing myself working three jobs. Those this morning though, staring out at a thousand yards of misery from those derelict shop doorways, are still bearing the brunt of it.

They give me pause – that it’s so commonplace even in the smaller market towns these days is telling me there’s worse to come, and no one to do anything about it. And that quid you toss into the begging bowl, or that pasty and a brew you press into shivering, mittened hands might get the poor bastard through until tomorrow. But what then?

And what’s that got to do with Saving Grace you ask? Well, pretty much everything, but you’ll need to read it to find out. Just click the book cover in the margin on the right. Best if you’re reading this on your smartphone – you’ll need an ebook reader app like Aldiko or Moonreader too.

All my stuff is free.

 

 

 

 

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book thief

I write novels and give them away as free books. Every now and then I notice my books popping up for sale on Amazon. The curious thing is I don’t publish on Amazon. Weird isn’t it? My books are put on there by some miscreant calling themselves Michael Graeme who has first downloaded them from elsewhere and then had the brass neck to charge money for them. Its a bit,… ughhh,… creepy.

Because I give my books away it’s not a big problem for me, leaves me nowadays only somewhat bemused, though it’s troubling to think of my name being involved in a scam of some sort, and I can only advise readers that any work by Michael Graeme appearing on Amazon is not authorised and you should not pay money for it. All my work is freely available and will be until the day I get a call from one of the big six. Then I’ll finally be quitting the day-job, buying myself a Harris Tweed Jacket with elbow patches, and moving to Hampstead.

For authors who do try to make a living by selling their ebooks, the Kindle swindle is more serious, potentially diverting money away from their own pockets and into the pockets of crooks. It’s not clear how the problem can be solved and for now it’s down to individual authors to be vigilant and call it out when they see it.

This sort of thing is always disappointing but sadly part of human nature. The first time it happened to me I was deeply upset by it, but those of us self publishing online, whether successfully or not, must, I’m afraid, come to accept it as part of the scenery. If it’s happened to you, don’t take it personally. If you complain to Amazon they will eventually respond and take the titles down, but it’s a drag to be honest, so nowadays I just leave a comment on the offending titles to warn potential buyers off.

The latest crop of thievery from my ebookshelves has in common the fact that all my books were recently uploaded to Free Ebooks for distribution. It’s a site I have otherwise been impressed with given their download rates, but have now grown wary of it. If any other authors have had a similar experience I’d be interested to hear from them.

So, to wrap up, please don’t pay money for my books. It’s eccentric, I know, but go to Smashwords, or Wattpad, or Free Ebooks where you can get them for nothing. I am the genuine, the one and only Michael Graeme, and I do not publish on Amazon.

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Ebook readers like the Amazon Kindle are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. They’ve gone from the back pages of obscure tech magazines to the impulse buying hotspots of our supermarkets. They’re no longer clunky and butt ugly. They no longer eat batteries. They no longer require a degree in computer science to operate. They’re stylish, and they last for months between charges. And ebooks themselves are no longer the rare, experimental things they once were; most new titles now come in both paper and electronic versions.

I’ve become more comfortable parting with real money for virtual Kindle editions. They’re usually a bit cheaper, but the main attraction for me is I can be reading that book moments after I’ve paid for it online, any time, night or day, rather than having to wait several days for the postman to bring it. It just magically appears via this thing called Amazon Whispernet. I no longer feel conspicuous in the office at lunch time, reading my Kindle. There are several of them around now, and I’m no longer ridiculed as a “gadget man” when I get mine out. And speaking as a writer, I write exclusively in the electronic format these days, because without it, I’d have no readers. You don’t need a publisher to get your book on a Kindle, you see? You can publish it yourself and distribute it worldwide, easily, and for free.

However, for all of my enthusiasm, there’s a downside, and it has to do with the natural life-cycle of a paper book, one that’s reached a balance over the centuries, but which the ebook looks set to wipe out. And I’m not sure it’s a good thing.

With a brand new paper title, we buy it and it we read it, then we hang onto it for a bit, maybe for years, perhaps re-reading it occasionally, or we might lend it out to a friend. Or, if it’s not a book we particularly value and it’s just taking up shelf-room, we may gift it to someone, or pass it on to a jumble sale, or a charity shop. From here it begins life in the second hand market, exchanging hands maybe dozens of times for a fraction of its original cover price, until it eventually falls apart and goes for pulp or landfill.

But even softbacks are surprisingly resilient, persisting in perfectly decent condition for decades. Hardbacks can last centuries. The lifecycle of a paper book can be a long one, during which the book has the potential to touch the hearts and illuminate minds of dozens of people who happen upon it. This is the charm and the romance of a paper book, also the charm and the romance of second hand bookshops where these ancient vessels are traded.

With an electronic text, however, there’s no material content, nothing to be physically traded. Another crucial difference is that, unlike that paper book, which would be labourious to copy, an electronic text can be copied instantly, and as I know from personal experience, pirated with ease. In order to safeguard against this, most new commercial titles come with electronic protection built in – known as Digital Rights Management (DRM) – which prevents the text from being easily copied and passed on. Publishers argue they have no choice but to do this, otherwise the pirates would have a field day with every new title that came out, seriously damaging the revenue they could expect to earn. But DRM also means that having bought that book, even as its owner, you’re not in control of its destiny.

It’s your book. You paid for it. But its lifecyle now starts and ends with you. You can’t lend it out to someone else. I know someone’s going to tell me this isn’t strictly true, that there is a way with a Kindle edition of re-assigning a title from your Kindle to someone else’s for a limited period – 2 weeks, I think – during which time that book isn’t available to you. But you can only do this once, and 2 weeks isn’t long, and what if you don’t finish the book in time? And what if you don’t want to lend it out, but actually give it away?Sorry. DRM won’t allow you to do that.

It’s not difficult then to imagine a future where there are no paper books any more – no more dog eared copies of our favourite authors to be discovered in the charity shop. These works, securely DRM’d would still only be available, at full price, online. If you wanted something from an author but didn’t want to pay the full cover price for an old book, well,…

You’d have to cross over to the dark side.

Naturally, the hacker community can strip off DRM protection in a jiffy, and crank out freely copyable versions of any book they like. But this is more clearly an illegal act, a deliberate infringement of copyright – in other words piracy. But it could be that this is a crime DRM technology forces upon the book reading, book loving community. Books, as vessels of knowledge and emotion will be lent among friends and they will be resold, and they will be given away, because that has always been their nature, and the restrictions of DRM technology may simply be sufficient to bring out the anarchist in all of us.

What does this mean, I wonder? Will future e-book reading devices have software built in to sniff out suspicious text, remotely delete it, or flag it up to the ebook police? Do they have it already? But it’s such a complex business, staying one step ahead of the hackers – and is it really worth it, financially I mean? Does it not risk making the ebook more expensive than a paper book? With a paper book, you don’t need DRM. In passing a paper book on, you no longer have it. Problem solved.

There’s an argument that says DRM is ultimately self-defeating, and should be discontinued, that its benefits, in terms of restricting piracy, are far outweighed by the draconian restrictions it imposes on legitimate purchasers of the material. But what if the publishers persist with it? Can we imagine a black market in Chik-lit? Or Twilight books, or Harry Potter? Can we imagine our otherwise respectable wives and girlfriends sneaking down back alleys, disguised in trenchcoats and dark glasses to get their pendrives topped up with dodgy holiday reading from lit-hacking kids with shifty expressions – and all the time the threat of incarceration or a crippling fine at the hands of the ebook police? Never has reading sounded so adrenaline pumping and dangerous!

I’m still not sure I like the idea of building up a book collection I cannot see or touch, one I have no power to lend out or sell on as I please. I don’t want to pirate the titles in my book collection, but I feel I should have the right to lend them out or give them away. I’ll also be sad to see the demise of the charity shop’s book section, from where I get most of my fiction these days. Having said all that, as I write, I’m aware I have about twenty books in my pocket right now, books I carry with me everywhere on the Kindle App of my iPod Touch. I take it out, click it on and in a moment I’m flicking through my book collection. Does it really matter that its virtual? What’s more important, a bookcase at home you can run your fingers over, or a library you can carry around in your pocket and browse any time?

This is an interesting period – a period of transition in the book reading and book writing world. The conservative in me wants to urge caution, to charm you with the romantic allure of an old fashioned book, and tell you we should we should all stick to paper while we can. But the progressive in me is fascinated by the potential of the ebook.You can, for example, access the whole of the world’s classical literature for free. Not a single title need elude you.

And for the paid stuff? Well, DRM or not, that Amazon Whispernet is still very seductive!

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The murky underbelly of on-line publishing?

They say where there’s muck there’s brass, but equally the opposite is true: where there’s the sudden glitter of freshly minted brass, the muck’s never going to be far behind in chasing it. It seems reports of the financial successes of certain authors using the Amazon Kindle marketplace as a publishing platform have resulted in murky characters muscling in and trying to sell ebooks on Amazon.com that don’t actually belong to them. They call it content farming. I call it plagiarism, or stealing.

Can’t write? Not a problem. There’s plenty of creative content out there you can simply cut and paste and sell under your own name. Just delete the author’s name and replace it with a false one of your own. But wait, isn’t that illegal? Sure it is. It’s also dishonourable, deceitful and downright dirty, but we writers are stupid enough to put our work up where anyone can copy it aren’t we? So it’s our own fault, right? I mean some writers even give it away – so what’s the problem? Worried about getting caught? Don’t be daft. Who can afford to get a lawyer involved to sort it all out? Sure, if the original author spots it and complains to Amazon, they’ll pull the plug on you, but by then you’ll have made a few bucks for very little effort and disappeared back into the woodwork like the n’er-do-well worm that you are.

It happens, apparently. It happens a lot, and it’s getting worse.

I wasn’t aware of this until a couple of my own books appeared over the weekend as retitled Kindle editions. The seller, who I’d never heard of, was claiming authorship and demanding the princely sum of $6.70 per download. My thanks once again to Lori and Emma for pointing this out to me, and for covering my back. I couldn’t believe the barefaced cheek, but then I’ve always been blissfuly naive in the ways of the world. I was initially quite cross, but I’m more philosophical about it now.

I’ve been agonising over Kindle publishing myself, but eventually rejected it as being too complicated – the financial and, taxation side of it – and then someone else comes along steals my stuff and puts it on the Kindle Marketplace themselves. There’s the plot of a good story in there, and a complex moral as well that I could spend a long time exploring . But seriously, it seems there’s little an online author can do about this, other than keep their eyes peeled by frequently googling their own stuff and making sure there’s nothing suspicious about what comes back at them.

Amazon were quick to act in this instance, taking the links down, but now I’m wondering if any copies were sold, and if that money can ever be repaid to the customers who downloaded those books in good faith – because they received a second rate product to say the least.

While the books were still up on Amazon I used the “look inside feature” and noticed the formatting of the text was mangled, the chapters not always complete, showing all the signs of having been clumsily combed off the internet, patched together and offered up for sale like a badly pirated video that turns out to be all noise. The difference is, however, with a badly pirated video, you know it’s pirated before you pay for it, because the guy selling it has a dodgy look about him and operates in the shadows of your local boozer. If you pay for it, you only get what you deserve, but with the Kindle, you’re assuming Amazon’s content is legitimate, and you’ll be justifiably cross to find yourself paying for disjointed content. It also tarnishes the reputation of the Kindle, and Amazon, and undermines consumer confidence in the whole e-book market.

I think this is actually quite a blow for the online independent publishing sphere. While on the one hand it’s encouraging to know there’s enough money around in independent publishing these days for the criminal underworld to take an interest in it, the last thing we want is paid content from independent authors turning into a minefield for the consumer. That way we all lose. I’m happy to be keeping my work on the free side of the internet for now. It makes it no safer, but there’s less confusion. If you’ve ever paid to read an ebook with my words in it, it was stolen.

So, if you recently downloaded those disjointed, second rate cyber-knockoff copies of “Love lost and found again” by “Kevin Peters” or “Fearful of the consequences” by “Jennifer Watson”, do please contact Amazon and insist on a refund. And if you’re not already weary of the whole business, please go over to my Feedbooks stream and download the proper e-books for free. “Love lost and found again” is a plagiarised version of “The Road from Langholm Avenue”. Fearful of the consequences is culled from my novel “Push Hands”.

Regards

Michael

**Update Feb 14th**

It seems I’ve taken the plunge at last and started selling my work on Amazon.com, with three Kindle titles listed – The Road From Langholm Avenue, Push Hands and The Lavender and the Rose. Yes, these books are under my own name and their original titles, but I’ve no idea how they got there, nor where the revenue is going.

I’m trying to have these taken down but in this case Amazon is putting the onus on me to prove I own the copyright, so they want address, phone number, inside leg measurement, plus a declaration signed in blood, on pain of death or life imprisonment, that I’m telling the truth.

Interesting! Okay – just sent that off to their legal department. We’ll see how it goes.

15/2/12 – Amazon reply to confirm receipt of my query and express regret that they are unable to respond as quickly as they would like at this time. Offending books still there.

17/2/12 Offending books still there.

21/2/12 Message from Amazon confirming imminent shooting down of offending books. Books gone.

Matter closed.

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