Angry Mob vs. Angry Mob: The LendInk Debacle

The LendInk Debacle has been a huge story on the reader message boards over the last few days. I have some links I’ll share with you, but first, I want to back up and explain what happened, because I think this is a hugely important lesson for both authors and readers in reading the fine print, thinking before you speak and post, and conducting oneself on-line in a professional and appropriate fashion.

The short version:

LendInk was a social networking site that facillitated lending of Kindle and Barnes & Noble e-books. They did not host the books themselves. They did not deal with the actual book files in any capacity. All they seemed to do was cull the listings of books which were marked lendable by the author or publisher, and provide buttons where those who wanted to borrow or those who wanted to lend could be hooked up with each other. The potential lendor would be redirected back to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, where they could lend the book using that store’s lend function in the usual way.

So, Phase 1 of the sorry mess:

Some authors get wind of this “book lending” site and wave the banner of “Piracy, Ho!” without considering a few important factors:

1) The site did not actually host or lend any books at all. This was the digital equivalent of the ride boards that proliferate on university campuses where people can post that they want a ride somewhere (or conversely, that they will be driving somewhere and are willing to offer a ride). The ride board itself does not transport anybody into a car. It simply provides a forum for connecting Party A with Party B. Likewise, LendInk did not host anything, did not pirate anything, and did not interact directly with any author’s book.

2) The authors’ own contract with Amazon permits the book to be lended. Where many authors seem to have fallen into the path of righteous indignation here was failing to realize that this permission had been granted. Either they ticked the lending checkbox without understanding what it meant, or they missed the fine print altogether because they signed up in the 70 percent royalty category, and all those books are eligible for lending by default.

3) The lending is also not a carte blanche fileshare. Typically, it is restricted to the one purchased copy being loaned one time, for a period of 14 days, and then that’s it. The buyer can only share the book the one time. If he or she knows other people who want to read the book, they have to buy it the same as he did.

The unfortunate result of these author misunderstandings? A virtual lynch mob with authors tweeting back and forth about the evil pirates stealing food out of their mouths, and a mass of indignant emails that overwhelmed the ISP of LendInk’s founder and caused them to shut the site down.

Enter Phase 2:

The readers find out. And they decide to retaliate with a lynch mob of their own, to teach those authors a lesson …

Here is a link about the war on the reader’s front, and here is a post on behalf of the authors. There is some graphic language in these exchanges. There are authors and readers behaving like little children here—name calling, insulting each other, vowing vengeance and blacklisting. It’s horrifying.

My own feeling on this is that both sides behaved badly here. I do think that many authors got caught up in the lynch mob mentality and failed to do their due diligence before they posted into the fray. But with that said, we are still in the prehistoric era of digital publishing here, and I think some of these authors truly did not understand that what LendInk was doing was legal, permitted and a far cry from ‘piracy.’ I do think most of these authors would benefit from valuing their work enough to treat it like a true professional would and educate themselves about some of these logistics before they put their work out there on the market.

As for the readers … well, the best I can say about that is, Two wrongs don’t make a right. I think that we all need to behave like grown-ups here. Trying to give authors the tools to educate themselves on their own rights and those of their readers will be more helpful than deluging them with name-calling and one-star reviews to shame them into apologizing.

13 Comments on Angry Mob vs. Angry Mob: The LendInk Debacle

  1. Nice summary of events. Because I’m interested in how mass hysteria develops, I was following this disaster as it unfolded.

    What’s interesting is that many authors who cried foul were upset because they wanted their books to be loaned and the word spread. It’s also ironic that while Jeanette Vaughn talks about how puny her ebook royalties are, they are much more on a percentage basis than for books published traditionally (the advance does make a difference.) No one has been complaining about libraries (I was a library director for 30 years) who purchase books at substantial discounts and then lend them hundreds of times; Amazon’s lending program was very restrictive.

    Note that your second link to Jeanette Vaughn’s site is a dead link but her recent posts can be found at http://jeanettevaughan.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/humility-and-the-high-road-for-indie-authors/#comments. These posts show she still does not understand what happened nor how the Lendlink site worked.

  2. “My own feeling on this is that both sides behaved badly here. ”

    I did no such thing!

    That is an awfully broad brush you’re using to tar all of us who reported on this story, Joanna. Maybe you should get your facts straight.

  3. Another example of “false equivalence.”

    The 2abd.com site is a lulz-and-ridicule site; I doubt that the people who maintained that site and made the silly/vulgar comments on it really cared about anything except ridicule for its own sake. I don’t think referring to them as going too far is helpful. 2abd.com didn’t cause the problems. They are simply laughing at the people who did.

    Nate’s piece on the subject, btw, was great. http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2012/08/12/one-author-explains-his-role-in-the-lendink-lynch-mob/

  4. As a reader only, I do not agree with those giving out one star reviews to the authors who were part of this mob. To be honest though, I can’t find a lot of sympathy for these authors either. Giving a one star review to an unread book is the equivalent designating a site as a pirate site and shouting it on Facebook, Twitter and multiple forums without reading the FAQ or doing due diligence.

    Call me vindictive if you want, but there should be consequences for such actions. Apologizing is a good start but does not quite seem adequate in light of the LendInk site being taken down. I must say that I also would not mind seeing a counter claim by LendInk or the providor against those who filed, what were essentially, false DMCA notices. People should realize that there is a risk to filing these claims and that is not something that should be undertaken lightly.

  5. Lots of authors did “due diligence” on the subject and stayed out of the fray.

    On most of the author lists I’m on, including the publisher lists, someone asked about the subject and someone else told them what LinkedIn is. The publisher told them whether or not he had or hadn’t agreed to the “to be shared” terms with Kindle or Nook.

    End of discussion and outrage.

  6. Nate, I am in no way referencing the people who *reported* on the story. I am referencing the people who joined the angry mobs: the authors, who had the Facebook and Twitter campaign (aka not every author in the whole wide world) and the readers who joined the one-star review punishment mob (aka not every reader in the world, and certainly not the media who reported on it). The fact that *every* author and *every* reader did not participate in this mess does not, imho, negate the newsworthiness of those who did.

  7. As an author and reader, I have to say this is like watching children.

    I’m not talking about the readers who have chosen to attack back at the authors who were happy enough in their ignorance to take down a site – readers will do what they want. I’m talking about the authors who took Lendlink down.

    They did pretty much what the readers are doing and yet somehow they think the readers are in the wrong and ‘it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t understand’ should suffice as closure to the issue.

    I’ll refer you all to the goose/gander/sauce saying, or perhaps ‘what goes around comes around’

  8. As far as I can tell, a lot of the “authors” who led the lynch mob are “indie”/self-published who are generally a pretty ill-informed and self-obsessed bunch. I’m one of those writers who would have loved to see one of my novels or short stories get mass circulation via such a user site.

  9. Agree with Deran. Alot of these authors were very niche authors (quite a lot of vampire porn and other ‘literary’ talents), so wondering how much exposure they even had before the whole Lendink controversy. Not to say any genre is better than any other, but i would think as an author you’d want to be known for your works, not for your deeds. Many of them have become famous, but not in a good way. I do buy from indie authors, but now before I do, i google them to see if they took part in this. If so, there are plenty of others I can support instead.

    And I also have to question just how much their works are being pirated? I can’t imagine there being a huge demand for vampire porn or romance novels? I’m not saying all the authors who freaked out wrote in those genre’s, but quite a few did (as I was curious who these authors were). Now if it was a Stephen King or a Neal Stephenson or a Sue Grafton, I could see that they have a lot to lose from piracy. For some of these MUCH smaller authors, piracy may even work to their advantage, since it gets some exposure for future works. That may be a controversial statement, and I’m not advocating piracy. Even if piracy doesn’t help them with getting their name out there, I can’t imagine it doing THAT much to damage their finances. How many sales do they even get? But again, i’m making assumptions here. Regardless, any damages from piracy I think will probably be outweighed by the loss of future sales.

  10. Jeff, romance and erotica (it’s not porn which is quite different) are the biggest selling genres in the US . The last figure I saw, just for romance, was 60% of the market. That doesn’t include ebooks and paperbooks from small publishers and the self-published. The biggest selling books in the world, the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY erotica novels, have passed all the HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT novels in total sales, and they have been out much longer!

    As to sales losses, the bestsellers certainly lose a great deal of money from piracy, but the less popular authors are the ones who are hurt the most. My favorite analogy is that if someone steals $500 from a rich man, it’s only an annoyance. If someone steals $500 from a poor person, it can mean that he can’t pay the rent or buy groceries.

    The bigger sellers also have the advantage of multiple sales outlets. You can find Stephen King in the bookstores and online in paper as well as ebooks, etc., but a vast majority of authors can only be found in ebook markets.

    Piracy hasn’t helped the sales numbers for the smaller authors, either. According to every author I’ve heard from on the subject, and I’ve heard from hundreds through my writer lists, legal sales remain small while all the illegal downloads are huge. Instead of one illegal download leading to huge sales on future books or backlist, the illegal downloads increase dramatically for the other books. Why should a pirate buy the next book when all of them are available for free?

    A gauge of popularity of an author is how fast an ebook appears on the pirate lists after it’s released. Some friends have reported their books have appeared in under an hour after release. The illegal downloads explode in numbers while the legal ebooks just sputter along in sales. That’s truly depressing.

  11. Fair enough Marilyn, I can’t really speak to the impact of piracy on the self-published authors. I wil say that of the people whose books I checked out, it looked fairly fringe in nature. However given the rampant success of Fifty Shades of Grey, which I also wouldn’t think too highly of, who am I to judge?

    What I will say is that the authors who engaged in this attack on a legitimate site without doing their homework have harmed their own brand. Some may recover, some may not. I know I won’t purchase from someone engaged in the mob. I get that it is your work, and you want to protect it, but you have a duty to do your own due diligence before taking down a legitimate site. I can’t imagine any author would like to be accused of plaigerism without proof, same as any legitimate website owner wouldn’t want to be accused of piracy. If you signed a contract that allows lending, you can’t be upset when people actually lend your books. Kinda like being upset that the library has the audacity to lend your books after they purchase them….or lend them <> more than once (which Amazon doesn’t even allow).

    What gets me the most is authors who now are coming up with excuses (well, he never explicitly asked for my permission…..copyright infringement on my cover art…..owner should have responded to me instantly…..I didn’t understand the FAQ…..I didn’t notice there was a FAQ) to justify their bad behavior. And then there are others playing victim (no fair, people are being mean to me, after I was mean to someone else….it’s not fair). Those excuses are bunk, and playing victim is only making them look worse. Make a heartfelt apology, and move on. It may not result in new sales, but at least it looks sincere.

    I find this fascinating as a study in human behavior and how panic can lead people to do stupid things. In this case, I think it was fairly self-destructive for those who took part. And I do understand that authors want to protect their intellectual property and have legitimate concerns around privacy. However I don’t think that in any way can justify what those authors did

  12. One other thing, while Fifty Shades of Grey may be called Romance, I do know a lot of people who have read it (and enjoyed it) and they all describe it as “mommy porn”, so even though there are those who may want to call the genre “romance”, alot of the readership seems to think it’s a bit more than that. Not that I’m a prude or care, but it certainly goes alot further than the “Romance” novels my grandmother used to read.

  13. By genre standards, FIFTY SHADES is romantic erotica with bondage and sadomasochism.

    And, yes, romance has gotten much sexier in recent years as everything else seems to have.

    The primary difference between romance and romantic erotica is that romance is a character story where two people fall in love and work toward a future together, and sex is part of the relationship. Romantic erotica is about two or more people having sex who develop a relationship.

    “Mommy porn” isn’t a subgenre. It’s a silly tag that some reporter created because so many women who buy FIFTY SHADES are “soccer mom” and younger women.

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