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Why Are There More Old Songs On iTunes Than Old eBooks? 77

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-blame-the-schools dept.
New submitter Paul J Heald writes "The vast majority of books and songs from the 20th Century are out-of-print. New data show music publishers doing an admirable job of digitizing older content, but book publishers fail miserably at putting old works in eBook form. I've done some research in an attempt to explain why: 'Music publishers can proceed with the digitization of their back catalog without competing to re-sign authors or hiring lawyers to renegotiate and write new contracts. Research has revealed no cases holding that music publishers must renegotiate in order to digitize their vinyl back catalogs. The situation for book publishers is substantially the opposite. In the landmark case of Random House v. Rosetta Books, the Second Circuit held that Random House had to renegotiate deals with its authors in order to publish their hard copy books in eBook format. ... Another advantage that the music industry may have is the lower cost of digitization. A vinyl album or audio master tape can be converted directly to a consumable digital form and be made available almost immediately. A book, on the other hand, can be scanned quite easily, but in order to be marketed as a professional-looking eBook (as opposed to a low quality, camera-like image of the original book), the scanned text needs to be manipulated with word processing software to reset the fonts and improve the appearance of the text.'"
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Why Are There More Old Songs On iTunes Than Old eBooks?

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  • by laird (2705) <`lairdp' `at' `gmail.com'> on Saturday March 15, 2014 @11:47AM (#46492477) Journal

    I worked in the music industry (in IT). I have no idea where the idea came from that the music publishers didn't have to renegotiate contracts to get digital rights to the music. In reality, when digital rights became important, the music companies spent a huge amount of time and money having teams for at least a decade tracking down rights-holders and negotiating digital rights in order to sell their back catalog, and of course made sure that their new contracts covered selling through the digital service providers. Book publishers have essentially the same legal challenge (though admittedly the details are different).

    What is really different is the production logistics.

    Music has been digitally produced for a very long time, using open standard formats, and for pre-digital material it's relatively easy to digitize audio (and video) from master tapes, so you only need to do "work" to deal with some very old, obscure media, which is only done selectively. And the music publishers have built systems that are very, very good at managing and format converting huge libraries of audio and video. So, 99% of the time, digitally selling back-catalog music and video is logistically fairly easy - QA, package, price, and send the files to the digital service providers.

    Books, however, have been authored in a series of random formats, and for older books there's only the physical book or manuscript and nothing digital. Which means that you often need to physically scan every page in the book/manuscript, OCR it, clean it up, QA the result, etc. And even for the digitally authored books, you need to track down whatever specific physical media and formats each publisher or author used (MacAuthor on 3.5" floppy, LaTeX, MS Word 3 on 5.25" floppy, etc.). So, overall, physically and logistically really complex to deal with for every single back-catalog book.

    Look at what Project Gutenberg has produced - an amazing collection, but it required a massive investment of (volunteer) effort to process the books into digital formats.

There is never time to do it right, but always time to do it over.

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