skud: (Default)
skud ([personal profile] skud) wrote2011-02-01 06:30 am

Ebook discussions flying under the radar

Mirrored from Infotropism. You can comment there or here.

A couple of weeks ago, I started seeing a pile of blog discussion about ebook piracy. It all started on January 12th, when Australian fan lucyham tweeted to author Sarah Rees Brennan:

Apologies. Have just torrented The Demon’s Lexicon. Will buy when laggardly, pickpocketing, luddite publishers in Aus get around to allowing Australians to buy books off Amazon. So sick of “Aussies can’t purchase this book” message.

A twitter storm ensued, which quickly made it to various blogs. Author Saundra Mitchell posted on her blog and also on her LiveJournal, saying:

If even HALF of those people who downloaded my book that week had bought it, I would have hit the New York Times Bestseller list. If the 800+ downloads a week of my book were only HALF converted into sales, I would earn out in one more month. But I’m never going to earn out. And my book is never going to be available in your $region, not for lack of trying.

Things took off quickly; there were almost 20 posts that day, mostly in response to Mitchell. In the next two weeks, or a little more, almost a hundred posts on the subject sprang up, more than two-thirds of which were on LiveJournal or Dreamwidth (a LiveJournal-like site, based on the same code; many people crosspost between the two.)

Reading these posts as they flowed past, I noticed several interesting things about them. Firstly, many of them were addressing the issues of ebook piracy from an angle I had never seen before, criticising the capitalist structures of book distribution and intellectual property from a social justice perspective. Secondly, most of the posts seemed to be by women. Thirdly, nobody outside the circles of LJ/DW fandom and social justice circles seemed to be noticing. It seemed a pity. I’m a regular reader or visitor to many tech blogs, including O’Reilly Radar, TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, and pop-culture-meets-tech blogs like Boing Boing, any of which might have picked up this story and run with it, if they’d been in the loop.

I wondered, though, whether I was missing something. I know that we tend to follow people most like ourselves online, and read things that reinforce our own views and opinions. If men disproportionately follow other men, maybe I’m disproportionately reading posts by women, and there were a whole bunch of posts by men that I’d missed. It’s happened before, after all.

Tonight I decided to investigate. Using Google Blog Search and following links from any posts I found, I put together a spreadsheet of posts, 112 in all, on the subjects of ebook piracy and international distribution, between Jan 10th and Jan 27th. (Why Jan 10th rather than 12th? Turns out that O’Reilly Radar had posted an article about ebook piracy and DRM on the 10th, which was referenced by other bloggers over the next few days, so it seemed worth including. More notes on my methods and choices made are at the bottom of this post.)

I then took the spreadsheet and ran it through a few lines of Perl to generate the following GraphViz graph:

ebooks discussion (600px)

Visualisation of the ebooks discussion. Version 1.0, 2011-02-01. Full image: SVG, PNG


  • A <- B means that post B linked to post A
  • Gender of poster is shown by colour of the nodes (pink for female, blue for male, grey for unknown/other)

Here’s what’s going on.

  • The giant tangled blob taking up most of the image is the discussion sparked by lucyham’s illegal download of Sarah Rees Brennan’s book, and Saundra Mitchell’s subsequent blog post. As you can see, there are the best part of 100 posts, mostly by women. This discussion ran from at least the 12th to the 27th of January (and the post you’re reading right now extends it into February).
  • At the top of the chart are some small clusters showing conversations not connected to the main LJ/DW conversation. The first is small cluster mostly around posts by Chris Walker of, criticising publishers who don’t make their books available to Australian consumers. This discussion ran from at least Jan 11th to 25th, but never crossed over with the discussion sparked by lucyham (also Australian).
  • Just below that is a set of posts about ebook piracy and DRM circumvention, mostly centred around O’Reilly Radar’s interview with Brian O’Leary, who says that DRM doesn’t prevent piracy. O’Reilly run the Tools of Change for Publishing conference, and that blog post was part of the lead-up to that event. This discussion played out from the 10th to the 18th of January, without linking to any of the other discussions in progress. (Nor, to be fair, being linked from them; the community discussing ebooks in January was as unaware of O’Reilly as O’Reilly were of them.)
  • At the extreme top right, a single post by Mike Shatzkin, on the globalisation of ebook publishing, was posted on Jan 21st but doesn’t link to any of the aforementioned conversations. It’s included purely because of its topicality, even though it wasn’t connected to anything else.

I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from this, other than that my gut feeling was correct: there was a really fascinating, complicated, crunchy conversation going on, mostly among women, mostly on LJ/DW, that the tech blogs and other parts of the web don’t seem to have noticed. Make of that what you will.

If you missed the discussion and would like to catch up on some of the highlights, I would recommend:

Links to all ~100 posts are in the spreadsheet o’ doom.

Some notes on methodology

  • How I found posts: a) Google Blog Search for “ebook piracy” between Jan 10th and 31st, b) following links from any blog posts that showed up, c) “linkspam” posts, especially this one. (The LJ/DW community, especially those involved in fandom and social justice issues, have a tradition of gathering linkspams to document hot issues as they happen.) I followed up with additional blog searches for related phrases, for instance “saundra mitchell”, or “brian o’leary” to find more posts linking to his O’Reilly Radar interview.
  • What posts qualified: any post that had at least a paragraph of original opinion, or was linked to by any other post already in the set. Therefore, posts that simply linked without additional commentary didn’t count. Posts outside of the time period (Jan 10th to 31st) were not included, no matter how often linked.
  • What counted as a link: only links in the main body of the post; I didn’t look at links in comments. However, if there was a link to a comment thread, I counted that as a link to the parent post.
  • Gender: I based gender on the stated gender of the poster (in user profiles, self-referential pronouns, etc), given names, pictures of the poster, and/or circumstantial evidence, in roughly that order of preference. In many cases, I have met the poster in person, and so used my personal knowledge.
  • Proportion of LJ/DW posts: when calculating the number of LJ/DW posts in the conversation, I counted a post if it was crossposted to at least on LJ-like platform.

Please, if I missed anything, mis-categorised, or mis-gendered anyone, let me know, and I’ll update the spreadsheet and the generated graphics.

dancingsinging: (Default)

[personal profile] dancingsinging 2011-02-01 06:21 pm (UTC)(link)
How fascinating! I love how your mind works, all investigative-like, and I appreciate getting to read the summary of all your leg work.
kuwdora: Pooka - card 60, brian froud (Default)

[personal profile] kuwdora 2011-02-01 06:33 pm (UTC)(link)
This is amazing and really useful for someone who is visual like me. <3
elf: Computer chip with location dot (You Are Here)

[personal profile] elf 2011-02-01 09:38 pm (UTC)(link)
Random comment: When I do link roundups, I get more useful results with Icerocket's blog search than Google; it collects more LJ links. (It doesn't collect many DW links, but I think that's because more DW people have spidering turned off.)

And searching for "e-book piracy" got different results, because some people don't use the word "ebook."
elf: Computer chip with location dot (You Are Here)

[personal profile] elf 2011-02-01 10:02 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, if you got links from my roundup, I'd already collected everything I could find at Icerocket, Google, LJ's search & DW's search, with "ebook" and "e-book" (at DW, I just searched for those alone, and for "piracy" alone, because the results were small enough to not mind the false positives), "book piracy," "book pirate," and "author piracy."

Searching for "ebook" alone at LJ was ... informative. I learned how active the spam blogs are.

Google apparently weights their results by some kind of blog popularity system that excludes most of the "journal" blogs.
foxfirefey: A wee rat holds a paw to its mouth. Oh, the shock! (myword)

[personal profile] foxfirefey 2011-02-02 12:49 am (UTC)(link)
Actually, Icerocket, as far as I know, either doesn't check the no-spidering rules or caches them so aggressively that people who have turned off spidering a while ago will still show up. I've had to make sure when using it to NEVER jump in with a suggestion without first checking the robots status of a journal, so I don't end up being a Creepy McCreeperton.
elf: Computer chip with location dot (You Are Here)

[personal profile] elf 2011-02-02 01:17 am (UTC)(link)
How do you check the robots status of a journal? (Am nongeek; had no idea that humans could check this.)

I don't think it's likely to change my habits for linkspam roundups; I also use less-automated methods like "any post with lots of comments, I check out that person's f'list for related posts." And I use the search at DW, which has opt-in for site-only searches that aren't caught by Icerocket.

I also get a lot of Icerocket results that point LJ but not the crossposted DW posts; I wonder if it's LJ that plays havoc with people's search settings.
foxfirefey: A guy looking ridiculous by doing a fashionable posing with a mouse, slinging the cord over his shoulders. (geek)

[personal profile] foxfirefey 2011-02-02 01:22 am (UTC)(link)
It's just a meta tag in the head section of the source, so while it's not apparent if you're just looking at the page in your browser, it's easy to find.

If you use Firefox, Tools -> Page Info will show it to you nice and simple in the Meta section. Basically, if there's a robots tag and it has noindex, nofollow, noarchive...Icerocket is being naughty!

I don't think LJ is playing havoc, I think Icerocket is being awkward and not respecting settings, and doesn't pay much attention to Dreamwidth.
foxfirefey: A guy looking ridiculous by doing a fashionable posing with a mouse, slinging the cord over his shoulders. (geek)

[personal profile] foxfirefey 2011-02-02 03:36 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, true! I just use that as a shorthand on an LJ entry, since if it's in the head tags, they also have it in the root directory--it's all controlled by the same setting.
nineveh_uk: Picture of a wild rabbit with text "I hope your rabbit dies" (Default)

[personal profile] nineveh_uk 2011-02-03 06:31 pm (UTC)(link)
Random thanks for icerocket, which I had never heard of.
elf: Computer chip with location dot (You Are Here)

[personal profile] elf 2011-02-01 10:06 pm (UTC)(link)
Oooh, random other thought... what does it look like if you remove the outward arrows from the Linkspam post? (You don't have to run the chart for that; I'm just curious.)
elf: Computer chip with location dot (You Are Here)

[personal profile] elf 2011-02-02 05:39 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, that's fascinating! (I wish Firefox had a "view: fit to width" option, instead of fit-to-height which is tiny little dots and full-size that requires scrolling around like crazy.)

I probably missed several of the "author blob" posts, because I came to the discussion late, and most of them are on LJ, which I can't get to from work. And because those are less interesting to me; I've heard every variant of "authors deserve to get paid!" in the last few years at Mobileread. (Which I agree with, but am not sure how ranting about downloading is supposed to make that happen.) While I was happy to include the posts I found in the linkspam, I couldn't bring myself to spend lots of time tracking down who's repeating clichés this week. OTOH, I actively searched for variant keywords about geographical publishing issues and cultural identity vs IP law posts.

stultiloquentia: Campbells condensed primordial soup (Default)

[personal profile] stultiloquentia 2011-02-02 01:59 am (UTC)(link)
This is really fascinating; thank you for putting it together.
sraun: portrait (Default)

[personal profile] sraun 2011-02-02 08:49 am (UTC)(link)
[profile] jimhines1 also had a discussion on his non-LJ blog -

I participated on that discussion.
damerell: (reading)

[personal profile] damerell 2011-02-02 03:40 pm (UTC)(link)
I find myself gently baffled by all this, and the point was driven home to me whan I saw Paul Cornell - who's not a bad guy - at Newcon making all the standard grr-piracy arguments and describing himself as an "early adopter". In 2010. Now I don't know when I started reading ebooks, but sent-mail says it was at least April 2002.

I also found myself moderating a panel at Eastercon 2010 about ebooks and failing somewhat at not letting the DRM discussion start. Bad moderator. But again we had someone from Gollancz (who I won't name) trotting out all the standard smokescreen arguments about authors deserving to be rewarded (and glossing over whether DRM achieves that) - obviously about the specific field of SF publishing, where surely Baen blew that idea to bits with the Free Library the best part of a decade ago as well.

I feel like I'm a caveman who saw the wheel invented ten years ago and doesn't understand why every other caveman thinks it's new. And should be square.
damerell: (reading)

[personal profile] damerell 2011-02-03 12:42 am (UTC)(link)
Yes. It's just a comment about something that's been bugging me.
forodwaith: (books)

[personal profile] forodwaith 2011-02-03 03:41 am (UTC)(link)
The discussion seems to be propagating (via Twitter, I assume) into other female-dominated spaces. Romance blog Dear Author included some related links in a round-up this morning.
karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)

[personal profile] karenhealey 2011-02-03 02:59 pm (UTC)(link)
Wow, this is fascinating. Lookit all the arrows!

Yes, it's grim for everybody especially the publishers

[identity profile] 2011-02-04 08:06 am (UTC)(link)
Timely post. I was looking for something to read, and something to listen to the other night, probably the very same night the discussion you refer to occured. With about $20 burning a hole in my pocket, I set out to give an author who probably doesn't need the money something (Ian Rankin ( fwiw), and a musician who probably does (Kimmo Pohjonen ( In neither case could I find what I wanted, easily, sufficiently cheaply, and preferably without DRM (it's futile guys, give up on it). So I did the only sensible thing. I went to considerable effort to find copies of what I wanted. If the publishers made things easy, cheap and international, then there would be no problems. Lonely Planet and O'Rielly media have made some good coin off me recently for that very reason. Don't expect me to pay more than $10 each for an electronic fiction book (I'll pay more for specialist non-fiction though), or CD mind you. You're competing with free, so your value proposition must be set to easy to win the race.

Note to Kimmo Pohjonen: I'll make up my piratical activity if you come and do another gig or two in South Eastern Australia.