TUEBL or not TUEBLE? That is the Question

TUEBL – The Ultimate Ebook Library, is a site dedicated to serving up ebooks for free to anyone and everyone. The site exists because its founder, Travis McCrea (Captain of the US Pirate Party and Chief Admin Officer of Pirate Party International), took a radical step to create this library without waiting for any third party approval. (Is it really that radical by now tho? Really?)

While Stanford and Harvard have been collaborating to build the Digital Public Library of America since 2010, they have many hurdles to cross and hoops to jump through as they intend to respect outdated copyright laws, despite apparently sharing the sentiments that non-profit access to content is a necessary resource (I highly recommend reading that last link).

Based in Canada, TUEBL is not subject to US laws of the land and apparently complies with international treaties. Although these restrictions have required a great deal of planning for the DPLA, which is still in the planning phase at the time of this writing, TUEBL has been steady offering direct access to ebooks since 2011.

A couple of significant factors set TUEBL apart from pirate sites and traditional content distributors. One of them is that advertising income from the site goes to literacy-based charities. Perhaps more relevant is the effort TUEBL has put forth to support the original authors of works that are being shared over the internet. For each title found at TUEBL, you will see a link to buy the book via Amazon.com or an audio book through Audible.com.

The decision to add these “buy online” buttons was perhaps based on the success which some authors, such as Neil Gaiman and Paulo Coelho, have attributed in part to file-sharing. The decision may also have been influenced by studies that show pirates buying content more often than their non-file-sharing peers.

Recently, the site has been receiving a lot of attention, in part due to the outrage of a particular author, Dakota Cassidy, during a heated discussion she began with Travis via facebook. I couldn’t help but jump into the discussion (who can resist a classic internet argument?) and witnessed a great deal of preconceived misnomers like the belief that copyright infringement is the same as theft, a file shared is the same as negative retail value (the money lost fallacy) and mostly a bunch of frustrated personal attacks toward Travis.

One point made was that file-sharing is not an “us vs them” issue. This is not meant to vilify Dakota, but to showcase a misguided belief system that many people still struggle to let go of. I understand where writers like her are coming from. If you genuinely believed you were being stolen from, you would probably be upset as well. This is where much of the disagreement surrounding TUEBL comes from. Not to mention that once most people begin to publicly argue a point it is very difficult to accept evidence against one’s argument without a sense of “losing face”.

Fortunately, the rest of us don’t need to wait around much longer for status-quo to change. It’s already changing. As a sort of hybrid between authorized distributor and pirate, TUEBL is a happy medium in a world where all content is subject to piracy, but did not previously offer a direct vehicle for generating sales. This could very well become the next trend for online content distribution as big players such as BitTorrent Inc. begin offering ways to help content creators earn income from sharing their work and as more content creators begin to embrace such opportunities.

BTW, my answer is TUEBLE.

8 Responses to “TUEBL or not TUEBLE? That is the Question”

  1. It’s the roadblocks faced by legal projects like the DPLA & Project Gutenberg that make an unorthodox (but also legal!) project like TUEBL necessary.

    Literature is culture and culture will spread – the internet has shown us just how persistant a force it is. If only the business world welcomed that spread, rather than fighting it…. TUEBL would be out of business in seconds! But the efforts of the literary community seem, sadly, to have followed those of music and film before them: towards building dams against the flow of culture, rather than mechanisms to harness its power. Too bad.

  2. Gene L Mason says:

    I love the idea and will use it. Gene

  3. I’m an indie author and I release my work DRM-free. I know this means there will be piracy (there would be even with DRM, which is what makes DRM pointless).

    I live with that … but I don’t really enjoy it.

    I get that pirates buy stuff — and that sometimes (not nearly as often as proponents of this fact want to believe) piracy can actually increase sales. I really do. I also get that a shared book is not necessarily profit lost because there was no guarantee the book would have been purchased if it wasn’t shared. It’s the same with software piracy. The people out there pirating Photoshop are largely people who would not have bought it, and also they end up learning the software and eventually getting jobs that pay for it or whatever. I get it.

    I still don’t think software piracy is “right” and don’t think people should engage in it. I feel the same about literary, movie, tv and music piracy. I can’t claim I’ve never pirated anything — I did when I was younger and less aware of the amount of work that goes into this stuff. These days, I don’t, because whether or not it’s legally “stealing” … it sure feels like it to me. Pirating stuff makes me feel gross.

    It’s virtually impossible, at the moment, that the people requesting my book DON’T know it can be bought. They’re asking for it by name within 48 hours of its release. This is not someone who’s oblivious and didn’t realize the book costs $2.99 and just downloaded it for a lark. This is someone who wants the book, knows what it costs, and is trying to acquire it for free instead.

    Why, exactly, would I support that? That money doesn’t go to “big publishing” or to copyright lawyers. Mostly it goes to me. I spent seven grand on that book. I’d like to make that back. Piracy, particularly piracy of this sort, is unlikely to help me with that.

  4. Tania says:

    I think I must agree with Christopher, because I know that when we download a book, the writer won´t receive anything…
    However I read a LOT, generally a book every one or two days, and I really can´t afford to buy all that books… And I must tell that there are authors that I really adore and in that case I will buy the book in spite of reading it online or don´t. And this is also a way for me to get to know writers that I’ve never heard of before, and consequently afraid of buying their books. In Portugal a book costs aproximately 18€ to 20€…

    • illunatic says:

      If you download a book and you really enjoy it, are you likely to rave about it to several people? If you really enjoy it, are you likely to purchase a copy to support the author?

      The people who do these things are the reason that piracy can lead to more exposure and more sales.

  5. david says:

    If it sickens someone to download a book or music it had better sicken you to download or dvr a program from tv. Its 100 percent the SAME thing. THe SAME arguments used asgainst these (and I mean 100% same) were used to argue that recording a program with a tivo or dvr was immorral and illegal. Guess what the US Supreme Court said, no its not!.
    So unless you never record ANY tv program, never download anything like that its more than a touch hypocritical.

    • illunatic says:

      Does it sicken anyone to read a blog? Between the money spent on domain and hosting and the countless hours that have been spent writing here, would slapping a copyright symbol on it and demanding payment up front suddenly make it more valuable?

      What if all literature is free and it is up to the author to convince people to pay for it or find some other way to monetize from it? This seems like the most accurate depiction of the present day.

      If you have the ability to control access to your creation by limiting how it is shared, then you are free to do that. Should you fail to do so, it is in your best interest to accept that and turn it to your favor.

  6. The Illiterate says:

    It never fails to amaze me that publishers think making extraordinary profits on the back of authors and consumers is defendable on the grounds that any thing else is “piracy” aka theft.
    I read recently that a music album by a well known group had sold over 300 million copies-to date: equating to around 3 billion in outright profit for the publisher, and maybe 90 million for the band. How an earth am I to feel guilty about listening to a pirated version of their music when the cost of their album costs more than my weekly food budget?
    I wrote a book once, cost me $30,000 it was never published except 30 copies distributed within a select audience. That audience made good use of my words, grasped the nettle of my argument and 3years later thanked me for altering their thinking and belief system in such a way that it saved lives, and about 30 million dollars. Yes I feel a little peeved that I was never paid, or recompensed for my efforts, but I did achieve my purpose. And should my book ever be pirated I will encourage its widespread distribution and take pleasure and comfort that my world has become a safer place.
    Authors works provide the substance of the culture to come, those that fail to shape a healthy culture are dross. At best an author should be honoured a supported in their profession, not used by publishers who fail to keep up with cultural shifts.
    I’ll really buy books when I can afford them, I’ll share my meal with any author but I not particularly interested in supporting publishers (other than those like Baen who honor “their” authors and readers alike).
    Distribution these days costs next to nothing, advertising likewise next to nothing, with an English speaking audience in the billions (inc English as a second/third language) all accessing electronic media via google, an author who wants to self promote only requires access to a computer (say the one used to write on), a resource such as tuebl, and a good friend to proof read/edit.
    Consider the authors of iPhone/pod software who earn a respectable income selling their works at 99 cents (Apple takes 30% cut for store “management” and “marketing”). These authors face a limited market, are used and abused by a ogre of a publisher, and write in a constantly changing language (redeveloped frequently by the publisher to “enable” new features, or block 3rd partly competition to Apple). By contrast an English language author can write in the dialect of chioce, can then self publish, and does not need to keep up with every little nuance of the English language – heck Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield is still a good seller even though the language is stullifying, and torturously outdated, and regional.
    Perhaps authors en masse should be pushing for a new copyright regime that provides authors, and immediate heirs benefits for life (but not +30 /+70), but third party publishers rights for a mere ten years maximum and a publisher fee (costs and margin) that is no more than 15% of the retail price. Then perhaps readers will be able to afford book purchases, and authors would receive more than adequate compensation for their efforts. After all as the iPhone app authors have discovered 600,000+ purchases @ 99 cents (60 cents to the author) is far far more profitable than 30,000 sales @ $2.99, or 2,000 sales @ $14.99, or 300 sales @ $90.00. Indeed the way to earn profit is to achieve market saturation by being both attractive and implied useful, but not unaffordable product sold as an incidental purchase. Item branding has become relatively irrelevant in today’s electronic shop – it is all about not loosing a potential consumer.

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