4/30/2014

Kobo Screws Public Domain Self-Publishing

Kobo decided to screw with public domain republishing by forcing them into lowest royalty payments. Tara Cremin says so.
(photo: Ella's Dad)
It's not like public domain books make a lot of money - except for publishers.

Now Kobo has decided to take a huge part of this public domain pie for themselves to punish self-publishing authors.

[Update: iTunes and B&N have joined this - banning new PD books entirely. Lulu just started banning PD, which blocks access for PD books in their distribution. See note below.]

Self-publishing public domain works is was barely profitable. Because anyone can compete, and there are a lot of free versions out there. Some aggregators, like Smashwords, won't take them at all. Amazon makes you add at least 10 "original images" to any ebook. Lulu, iTunes, GooglePlay and B&N tend to just accept your derivative work without question.

So did Kobo, until just recently.

A derivative work is defined pretty well by Wikipedia. Essentially, you add some original content and claim a new copyright for yourself. Since public domain is a "who cares" scene, this isn't policed by anyone.

My tests in this showed that these books, given a new cover and description, were still in demand and sold decently. People want a good version for their smartphone or reader. And a lot of the versions out there are garbage. (If you want free quality versions, check out Feedbooks.)

So a person could locate public domain books, do some decent marketing on them and start profiting. It all looked pretty good for being able to provide a service of re-publishing classic works and adding value to these for readers.

Then someone at Kobo decided this wasn't cool.

I got an email from Tara Cremin, "coordinator" at Kobo Writing Life, which said I needed to declare my books as public domain and take the 20% royalty payment for them.

After some back and forth, my protesting that they were derivative works, etc. - she finally clarified it like this:

You’re correct, reviews or study guides of works do not need to be declared as public domain as they are reviewing the text rather than included it in its entirety.

However, you cannot just change the author name and title for works so that they’re not part of the public domain. For example, your title “Claude M. Bristol's Magic Of Believing” by Dr. Robert C. Worstell. The book still includes the entire content from Claude M. Bristol. You cannot take others work and claim them as your own. If it is in the public domain, you need to declare it as such.

This also goes for collections and derivatives of authors’ work. The works are still part of the domain and need to be declared as such. You retain the copyright to any books published through Kobo Writing Life but public domain needs to be declared.
So if you only publish an excerpt of the book, you're good. If you publish the whole book, you take the 20% penalty payment. Meaning that Kobo pockets the 80% for your work in editing and marketing this book newly.

It's just a way to discourage public domain book publishing. Simple. 

The trick is - they aren't the only distributor out there. And they aren't a huge chunk of my income such that I have to get all worried about it.

All this does is make Kobo look greedy.

There's nothing on Kobo's site which covers this. I did find a service agreement which says if a book isn't in the public domain, you have various royalty level options. But nothing laying out specifically what Tara Cremin did above.

Look, this doesn't change the fact that you have to do marketing for any book you publish. You have to find and nurture your audience.

All this says is that Kobo is now down near the bottom of the list to send books to. I'll start getting these public domain books accepted by Amazon and work their system instead. And any marketing will (reluctantly) carry a link to the books I have on Kobo.

Otherwise, I build up a platform for people who want these classics and send them everywhere I can earn more income as a self-publisher.

Who gets screwed here? Like putting one in your own foot, Kobo.

[Update: Several other books submitted via Lulu to iTunes and B&N a couple days ago just came back with this rejection:
"We cannot accept content into retail distribution that is freely available elsewhere online, including but not limited to public domain material and plagiarized content."
Lulu did accept and publish them on their own site, they just won't distribute them.

Oddly, they won't accept priced-as-free PD versions either, apparently. It's looks to be a script scene, looking for duplicate content among PD versions.

So for PD books, you can publish everywhere, but you have to do the publishing yourself - or pay aggregators fees which public domain books won't support. I'm still testing Nookpress.com (they've been down this weekend) but iTunes accepted one right off from me - when I got a MAC mini to do the uploads.

What's being discouraged by Kobo, etc. are the cheap commodity books which have the same title, author, text - and usually crappy editing and cover. It's probable that a PD book with a different title, cover and additional author will fly on Amazon - they just want unique books. While this is the subject of another post, the trick is that you would then have to generate your own reviews. Amazon lumps books together to share their reviews - so a new hardcopy version of a Kindle version gets whatever is already accumulated.

Note 2: such a derivative ebook would link to your book sale landing pages where they could get Lulu versions: epub, PDF, and hardcopy versions, plus videos, opt-in to an ecourse, etc.]

More testing

I'm not letting this sit. As posted elsewhere, I've already committed to uploading via my new MAC mini.  First book got approved for the iTunes store right off. So I don't know what was taking Lulu so long to get my books onto iTunes and Nook. (Nookpublish.com has been down all weekend, so I'm waiting on this one.)

Next up is testing Amazon to see how to get sales from books which are not free or 99-cent wonders. Looks like niche PD  books have higher prices than the literary classics.  While I've had these books selling at .99 each, on Kobo I raised them to 3.99 (getting .79 per book) and while volume has dropped off, income has increased. Go figure...
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