Thursday, August 9, 2012

Public Domain on the Kindle

Some of you might have noticed that I've recently been publishing some public domain stuff under my Tales of Antiquity line, and if you haven't that's okay. I suppose I should stop here to give a little forewarning that this post is going to be a tad unusual for me. I typically don't post about writing (well, except to tell you that I have been and where you can read it) or about the business scene behind the writing or the publishing, but I do notice a lot of confusion about Amazon's policies where public domain material is concerned. Now, I'll admit that I am not some guru or anything like that. I won't claim to know all the ins and outs of Amazon and their business practices. What I can do, however, is offer my interpretation of their public domain guidelines, which I feel make a lot more sense than some of the other stuff people are claiming. Hopefully you will, too.

So, let's start off by taking a look at the actual guidelines from the KDP:

"Selling content that is in the public domain is permissible through our program. We may request that you provide proof that your submitted material is actually in the public domain and may refuse public domain content already available through our Program or available through other retail sites.

In order to provide a better customer buying experience, our policy is to not publish undifferentiated versions of public domain titles where a free version is available in our store. We consider works to be differentiated when one or more of the following criteria are met:

• (Translated) - A unique translation
• (Annotated) - Contains annotations (unique, hand-crafted additional content including study guides, literary critiques, detailed biographies, or detailed historical context)
• (Illustrated) - Includes 10 or more unique illustrations relevant to the book

Books that meet this criteria must include (Translated), (Annotated), or (Illustrated) in the title field.

For example, "Pride and Prejudice (Annotated)" is acceptable, while "Pride and Prejudice (with an Introduction by Tiffany Gordon)" is not. The product description must also include a summary of how the book is unique in bullet point format at the beginning of the product description (maximum 80 characters).

While it's possible that other features may make books unique, we consider only public domain titles with the criteria noted above to be differentiated. Examples of some features we do not consider to be differentiated include a linked table of contents, formatting improvements, collections, sales rank, price, and freely available Internet content.

This policy was implemented in February 2011 and is applicable to both new and existing titles in the Kindle Store, which will continue to be enhanced to provide an optimal experience for buying customers.

If you have public domain books that are no longer offered because of this policy and you believe they are differentiated, please write to title-submission@amazon.com to specify how your books meet our criteria and we will again consider them for sale in the Kindle Store."
That is Amazon's public domain policy in full. If you don't believe me, you can go ahead and check their site for yourself right here.

Let's take this from top to bottom and just kind of digest what's going on here. It's actually a whole lot simpler than most other resources are going to try to lead you to believe.
"Selling content that is in the public domain is permissible through our program."
Public domain is totally something you can do. Don't be afraid to do it.
"We may request that you provide proof that your submitted material is actually in the public domain..."
This is reasonable, and not as difficult and nerve-racking as you might think. If they ask you to prove the authenticity of the public domain status of the work, just send them a couple sources telling them when the authors (or copyrights holders) perished or relinquished their claim, when the work was published, and anything citing that the work was not renewed for further copyright. They'll even give you a simple to understand list of what they're looking for, so don't worry about it. Do your research, you're good.
"...may refuse public domain content already available through our Program or available through other retail sites."
Now, this is important. They specifically make mention of possibly rejecting public domain content available through other retail sites. This means Project Gutenberg is not one of those sites. Essentially this is a non-compete clause telling you not to upload your book at sites like Smashwords or Barnes & Noble's PubIt platform. In other words: Keep it Kindle.
"In order to provide a better customer buying experience, our policy is to not publish undifferentiated versions of public domain titles where a free version is available in our store."
This is a lot to swallow in one big bite, so I'm going to break it down further. This is, after all, where everyone seems to be tripping up.
"...not publish undifferentiated versions of public domain titles where a free version is available in our store."
Here we are. See that? Everyone telling you that if the material is on Google Books or Project Gutenberg or any of the other billions of public domain book sites to leave it off of Kindle is wrong. This section very clearly states not to upload an undifferentiated work where a free version is currently available in the Kindle marketplace. They don't care if it's online or not, and I'm going to let you in on another secret:

They aren't doing this to "Clean up the spam" as many others have put it. This is yet another non-compete clause. Except this clause is one of non-competition between Amazon and you. Individual authors can't put books up permanently for free, only Amazon can. This means they don't want your copy distracting readers from theirs. That's really all this is. Sure, it will help to keep the spam offsite, but this specification serves one purpose: to keep the amount of free material easily visible to help push the Kindle platform to penny pinching consumers.

So if it's on Gutenberg but not on Kindle? Go for it. Don't even sweat. Format it all nice and pretty (really, do that. I'm sick to hell of table of contents that link me to the Gutenberg website, and even more sick of seeing that dastardly formatting.) and go for it.
"We consider works to be differentiated when one or more of the following criteria are met:

• (Translated) - A unique translation
• (Annotated) - Contains annotations (unique, hand-crafted additional content including study guides, literary critiques, detailed biographies, or detailed historical context)
• (Illustrated) - Includes 10 or more unique illustrations relevant to the book"
This part's easy too. If the work is currently available freely in the Kindle marketplace then you need to make your not-free version special. How can you do that? Well, they spell it all right out for you. Translate it into some language, craft your own little worksheets and study notes and essays (and this should account for about half the book or you're doing it wrong), or add ten unique illustrations.

Oh right, that's another thing people keep screwing up. Let me tell you all about that one.
"• (Illustrated) - Includes 10 or more unique illustrations relevant to the book"
See how I'm underlining again? That's because this is important. A lot of public domain publishing gurus are telling their users to go grab ten public domain images to slap into their repackaged works. This is clearly wrong. That word there, "unique", that means: not from anywhere else. Ever. Amazon does not want ten public domain pictures carelessly shoved between public domain prose. Amazon wants you to craft ten pictures specific to your copy of the book. If you don't believe me, there's a little something later on that people keep screwing up that supports this, so stay tuned.
"Books that meet this criteria must include (Translated), (Annotated), or (Illustrated) in the title field.

For example, "Pride and Prejudice (Annotated)" is acceptable, while "Pride and Prejudice (with an Introduction by Tiffany Gordon)" is not. The product description must also include a summary of how the book is unique in bullet point format at the beginning of the product description (maximum 80 characters)."
Admittedly this part confuses me, so I'm just going to gloss over it a little. I think what they mean is: Don't try to shove off an introduction as constituting a unique work. I know that they say to specifically include, for instance, the word "Translated" for translations, but with my Classic Tales Translated for the Cell Phone Generation I've just said "Translation" and there hasn't been any problems. Basically don't be misleading and you shouldn't run into an issue.
"While it's possible that other features may make books unique, we consider only public domain titles with the criteria noted above to be differentiated. Examples of some features we do not consider to be differentiated include a linked table of contents, formatting improvements, collections, sales rank, price, and freely available Internet content."
Okay, here we are at that other part throwing tons of people for a loop. I'm going to break this one down bit by bit. When I get to the one of special interest, you'll know because I'll suddenly sound angry and I might even swear a bit.
"...linked table of contents, formatting improvements, collections..."
Alright, you see all of these things here? Lots of people are taking this to mean: "If it's in the public domain, just making it pretty won't cut it." This is wrong. Again. People need to stop doing that. Remember how earlier I pointed out that Amazon doesn't give a rat's ass if the work is on Project Gutenberg? How they only care about undifferentiated versions of works that are currently available for free from the Kindle marketplace? That applies here. If your work is not currently for sale on the Kindle, feel free to just slap a table of contents on there, fix up the formatting (please, please, please, please, please), and collect them in as big a bundle as you want. You're in the clear as long as that work never becomes freely available by Amazon itself.
"...sales rank, price..."
If you think your sales rank differentiates your work, go get a reality check.
"...freely available Internet content."
Here! Here! Thisthisthis! This is the part that so many people are freaking tripping on! This is the part goes right the hell back to that unique images rule! Look look, it's plain as night and day, let me show you.

Lots of people are claiming this means something along the lines of: "Don't put content that is freely available from the internet on our store." This is so dead wrong I don't even know where to start, but it's kind of my self-appointed job to figure that out. Too many people think this is some dead shot in the eye of people scouring Project Gutenberg for republishable material. No, no, no. Go ahead and repackage all that stuff. What this part is telling you is that if the work is available in the Kindle marketplace do not stick ten public domain images on it and call it unique because that will make you a liar face. If your work is not freely available in the Kindle store throw it right the heck up there.

So to sum it all up in a neat little package, for all you tl;dr-ers: If the work is not available for free in the Kindle marketplace, you may republish it to your heart's content without making it special. If the work is freely available in the Kindle marketplace, you better make your copy real damn unique. Unique does not mean stitching together more public domain material.

I hope this clears some things up for a lot of people. There's just too much confusion and misinformation flying around when Amazon was crystal on what it is they're looking for in public domain material.

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