Monday, 6 August 2012; or, Drama, Drama, Drama

I wasn't going to go here. I've tried talking sense to the hysterics on a number of forums this past week when it would have been more productive for me to spend that time banging my head against a brick wall, but I'm going to do it anyway. Maybe it'll prevent something like the absolute nonsense and drama and stupidity I've seen sweep through the indie author community like a wildfire from happening again.

For the three of you who don't know, was a site that capitalised on the lending feature available on most Kindle books. This is nothing to do with the Loan Library available to Amazon Prime members. There has been a lot of confusion about this, so let me break it down.
US Amazon customers who sign up for Amazon Prime get, on top of free postage and some other incentives, a free loan of one book per month. Authors are paid for the loans that they get if they sign up. To be a member of the library, authors agree to distribute exclusively through Amazon. They also get to make their book free for five days of their choice during each three month period, hence the massive flood of freebies currently available on Amazon, which is another matter entirely.

On top of this, any author who gets the 70% royalty (i.e. prices their books at $2.99 or more) is automatically signed up to make their books lendable (those on 35% royalty can also opt into this feature if they want). All this means is that every person who purchases that book is entitled to lend it to one person, once, for fourteen days. During the lend period the purchaser cannot access the book. At the end of the 14-day period the book reverts back to the owner and can never be lent out ever again.

So if I'm reading a really good book that I think my mum / SO / best friend will want to read, I tell Amazon to send them the book to read on their Kindle.

What Lendink did was set up a site where people who have copies of Kindle books with that lend feature can list them and lend them to strangers. Useful if you really, really want to read Book X but don't know anyone who has it.

Lendink were not original in this venture. Sites such as Lendle have been doing it on a much bigger scale for much longer. Most Goodreads groups have a lend thread, and there are a number of GR groups devoted to the practice. Okay it might not fall entirely within the spirit of the lend feature, but it is well within the boundaries of the T&Cs of the feature as set out by Amazon.

To make this explicitly clear - no books were being pirated. Lendink had no access to any book files.

So how does it make money? Simple, Lendink was an Amazon affiliate. Which means that they earn a (teeny-weeny) commission for every book purchased from Amazon by people clicking through their links. This encourages them to add buy links on all the book pages, and to prompt people to actually buy the book rather than wait for a lendable copy to come available. The commission is paid by Amazon and doesn't affect author royalties.

As an author, I think sites like this are a good idea. Yes, really. And here's why:

We all struggle with the age old issue - visibility. If no-one knows who you are and what your books are, no-one will read them. It's that simple. I spend far more time than I have to spare trawling through "how do I market effectively?" threads on numerous author forums. It's the single biggest problem newbies have. Well sites like Lendink post my book with zero effort from me. They show the cover and the blurb and they have a buy link leading back to Amazon. Win!

It encourages readers to identify books that they want to read. The point of running competitions on sites like Goodreads - long lauded as great publicity - is nothing to do with the two people who actually win a signed copy of your opus and everything to do with the 500 people who enter. Because they have to add the book to their TBR/wishlist. Which means they know now that the book exists. Even better, they've identified it as something they want to read. And a percentage of the people who didn't win a copy will - eventually - buy a copy of their own. Win!

Lendink did exactly the same thing. People wishlisted books they wanted to read. There are always more takers than givers on sites like this, so the majority would have been disappointed in their hopes to lend the book. Hence the affiliate links back to Amazon. They eventually get fed up and if they want it, they buy it. Win!

It puts your book in front of people who didn't even know they were looking for it. Most people join sites like this trying to get the latest bestseller that everyone's talking about. Unless your book is selling 50 copies or more a day, the chances of anyone signing up because of you are slim to none. So books like 50 Shades become massively over-subscribed. Those wanting to lend a copy are almost certainly going to be disappointed. But say it's a week from payday, nothing on their Kindle is inspiring them but they want to read something. They browse the site and find an obscure indie book offered for lending. It looks interesting. They think "what the hell" and request it. They get it. They love it.

What happens next? Well they look for more by that indie. They might recommend the book to friends/family. They might even - shock! horror! - buy their own copy so they can read it again in the future.

Win! Win! Win!

But apparently newbies are blind, deaf and dumb these days. Blind to the site's actual objectives. Deaf to those of us who tried to explain why was A Good Thing. Dumb because they've destroyed a site which was actively promoting their books for free.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, is no more (at least right now). Only three days after the first hysterical post went up on an author forum the site shut down. Theories abound. It could be that the owner took it down to stem the flurry of abuse. It could be that the sheer volume of hits exceeded the bandwidth. It could be that the host was inundated with DMCA complaints. It could be a combination of all these facts and more. Whatever the reason, it's gone. More's the pity.

Some people have claimed single-handed responsibility for getting the site removed. Some have argued that the fact it has gone is "proof" that it was an illegal site. Many are citing Amazon emails stating that in no way authorised to distribute their ebooks.

Firstly: no one person did this. It was a group effort and I hope you're all proud of yourselves.
Secondly: any host will pull the plug on a site if they're inundated with complaints that the site is breaking the law. Remove the site and investigate later. It's the safest option and says nothing at all about the actual legality of the site.
Thirdly: when people emailed Amazon and said that Lendink was distributing their books, they gave Amazon false information. Those responses from Amazon were written in good faith, and were true (Lendink couldn't distribute Amazon's books) but not the whole truth (because Lendink were never distributing them to begin with). Hence Amazon's response, while correct, was irrelevant.

Piracy is a problem we all face, and I'm not disputing that. I've probably done more than 90% of the indies out there to successfully combat piracy. Check out some of my most popular blog posts on what happened when my book got pirated.

That doesn't mean that every site that features your book is a pirate site.

The first piece of advice I give to anyone who comes to me crying that their book has been pirated is to check and double-check that fact. In the majority of cases, what our hapless indie has actually found is either a phishing site (which will claim to have anything and doesn't actually have the book at all) or an affiliate (which will direct any purchaser back to Amazon and result in a legitimate sale).

Every newbie thinks that their book is the bee's knees and will be a breakout bestseller; will rise to 50 Shades prominence and will earn them millions. They've already cast the film by the time they press publish. Ambition and belief in your work are commendable qualities. They can also be terribly, terribly naive.

I read somewhere that the average ebook sells less than 150 copies. I can believe it, certainly in the first year. (Although ebooks are essentially eternal, so over a lifetime who knows?). I'm not saying don't dream big, but be realistic. If you're struggling to sell a copy a day, what are the chances someone's going to pirate your book? Where's the incentive?

Think about it for a minute. You want to run the biggest, badass pirate site on the net. You want people to come to your site. Are you going to offer a ton of books no-one's ever heard of, by no-name authors, or are you going to offer the bestsellers, the big names, the books everyone wants to read? It's a no-brainer. That's not to say that a struggling book will never be pirated, just that the lower down the rankings you are, the less likely it is.

Out of curiosity, I did some digging. Almost without fail, those that were getting hysterical about Lendink were people who'd been published less than six months and/or were struggling to sell a copy a week of their book on Amazon.

So, the people who would best have profited from Lendink.

Two of my eight books have been pirated. The two bestsellers. The others sell reasonably - a copy or two a day on Amazon, plus a smattering over other sites - but nothing compared to those two. Four Chances was #1 in genre on Amazon and iTunes, has sold well into 3 figures and has been pirated onceWhat He Wants has been #1 in genre on Amazon in four domains, hasn't dropped out of the top 5,000 across the store as a whole, and is highly-ranked on iTunes and B&N to boot. I generally don't discuss numbers, but I've sold more than 4,000 copies of that book in the three months since it's been published. And it's been pirated everywhere. I spend my life sending DMCA notices about that book.

Visibility = sales, but it also attracts the pirates. Zero visibility = zero piracy in 99% of cases.

What is most striking, in so many of the threads on Facebook and various author forums about this site, is the fact that most people simply don't have any idea what they hell they have signed up for when they publish on Amazon et al. The majority don't know the difference between lending and loaning books on Amazon. They don't understand the affiliate programme, or where the 6% affiliate cut is paid from.

They don't understand the internet either. They can't tell the difference between an affiliate, a phishing site and actual piracy.

Nor do they understand what their recourse is when their books are pirated. So, so many times I've seen newbies running to Amazon when their book is pirated. People, Amazon are a distributor. They are under no obligation to protect your book. As publisher, that's your responsibility. We have to defend our own work when we find it compromised, and there's a set way of doing that. You send a DMCA notification. You contact the owner or the host. You get the site blocked by Google. That's the process, in the right order. In 99% of cases that will sort the problem for you.

You do not bitch and moan to Amazon and expect them to do the hard work for you. You do not hire a lawyer. You do not contact the Attorney General (as I saw someone suggest as a first resort). Nor do you call the FBI, the CIA or Batman, for that matter. DMCA is an American law which governs any American-run site. If the host or the owner is American, you've got them under that law. Most international hosts also abide by it, even in cases when they're not legally bound to do so. Laws are passed so there is a proper recourse when you've been wronged. You wouldn't call the Attorney General if someone broke into your house and stole your computer, would you? You'd call the police - because that's the proper protocol. There's no point passing a law if everyone's going to skip around it.

It's too late for Lendink. Whatever I and several others said was so much crying in the wilderness. What has happened this last week is a perfect example of mass hysteria and the madness of crowds. There was - and still is - so much misinformation abounding about this site and what has happened. What has actually happened is that a group of clueless newbies have destroyed a completely benign site, and slandered its owner in the process. (Yes, I saw those Whois screenprints being bandied around). Who knew that a group of professionals could act in such a childish manner?

Yes, I said professionals, because that's what we're supposed to be. Self-publishing is a business. You're meant to comport yourself in a certain way. The reaction to Lendink was no better, to my mind, that those outburst that flare up occasionally because someone dared to give some precious indie's book a bad review. And if you're a professional person, running a business, you're expected to understand that business. When I say lend and loan and distributor and publisher, I expect other indies to know what I'm talking about, just the same as I expect a tiler to know what grout to use for my bathroom floor, or I expect a computer tech to know the difference between RAM and cookies, or whatever.

If you can't learn the basics then you shouldn't be in business. Get a deal with a publisher and let them worry about it instead. Being an indie is hard enough as it is, without us all tilting at every windmill we pass.

Kate Aaron is an author of contemporary and fantasy mm romances.
Find all her books on 
AmazonAReB&N,  iTunesSWSonyKobo, & Diesel 

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