Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

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Al Schneider
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Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Al Schneider » June 29th, 2015, 2:20 pm

Recently I found one of my best books offered as a free download at several web locations. I panicked. At first, I was really rattled. I have a dozen or more new books planed and worried about having them ripped off. I considered pulling all my books. I thought to try to devise a way to sell material and keep it confidential.

I contacted Create Space, the publisher, and asked how these jerks could get my PDF's. They responded by saying they keep such things confidential. They cautioned me that there are phishing sites that promise free downloads in an effort to get the users confidential information. I calmed down a bit but pursued the idea of sending secured material over the internet. As I have recently been studying how to build electronic devices, I applied electronic technology to find a solution. I found a nice solution and this is the main subject of this post.

However, I have had another unrelated question on my mind and I would like to present that here as well. Therefore, I have two questions. One is about selling electronically protected material. The other is about writing books using non-standard gimmicks.

Here is the security device I had in mind. It looks kinda like a key fob for a car. It is a small thing that has two buttons and can easily be held in one's hand. It is at the end of a USB cable the other end having a type A USB plug. The book itself is a file that can be downloaded over the internet. It is a scrambled file. To use it, the file is downloaded into your computer. The device is plugged into a USB port. A screen pops up that asks for the name of the file. When that is entered, the first page of the book appears. The two buttons on the fob move the pages forward and backward. The presentation contains text, pics, and video. That is the essence of the operation. The goal was to keep it simple for the user, provide additional user features, and be somewhat easy to implement.

To support this scenario requires some technological juggling. The seller must provide the user with the fob. The fob contains a code unique to the user. When the seller ships a book file to that user, the unique code is put into the book file. There is much more than this but that is the primary task the seller needs to do to use this system.

The fob will not cost much. It essentially uses a single chip that costs $1.50 in quantities of one. All the work is in the software which is complicated. The chip is structured so the software cannot be copied off it. You can destroy it but you can't copy it.

The security is not perfect. Some clever guy can write a program to duplicate the fob software. The goal is to make the effort cost more than the profit from using such a program. It also depends on the idea that we are not high volume sellers of magic books.

I am curious if you think such a system is desirable. Also, do you think other sellers might find this device interesting.

That is it.

Now to the other item. I have several new tricks that do not use standard props. I want to write a book about them. To do so means that the book explains in detail how to make the gimmicks used. I have done this in the past but do not feel good about it. In addition, I need to do it some more. A solution would be to make the prop and sell it with the book. That is just not my way of doing business. I am thinking that I should write the book as if it stands alone. Then, should I feel the desire to make props, I do the hardware and ship it with the book as instructions. Alternatively, someone might pop up that wants to make hardware and we strike a deal. Anyway, the primary question is, "Should I just write the book and explain how to make the gimmick." Trouble is, if I don't do that the trick will never be released.

This is actually an outcome of the last time I asked help from this forum. That was when I asked about what was a desirable cup and ball routine. After all this time, I finally have a solution. The solution consists of a bag with a cup, three small balls of different color, and a large final load. No gimmicks. The props are carried in the bag. Can be done standing by a table in a birthday suit. Everyone examines everything. The routine is outstanding ending with a final load that is really always there until the end. All is put back into the bag ready for the next performance. This is designed for the serious close up pro. It may be suitable for stage with bigger props.

The details are in the structure of the props. I made my own cup and final load. The goal is to fill the cup with the final load yet support the small balls as well. I did not want the final load to be vastly smaller than the cup. In this routine, the final load appears to fill the cup totally. In a sense it does.

Well, those are my questions.

Sorry this was so long.

Al Schneider
The single absolute truth is that we don't know.

Larry Horowitz
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Larry Horowitz » June 29th, 2015, 2:35 pm

Al,

I think in many ways this can only be answered in a "by person" basis.

In my case, while I can learn any routine with practice, I cannot make anything with tools. If I have to make the prop, my give up level comes real soon. Others may enjoy the craftsmanship.

My recommendation would be to offer two options, two prices, with or without prop included.

Larry

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Bill Marquardt
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Bill Marquardt » June 29th, 2015, 3:17 pm

I am not an expert on such matters, but -

In the past some high-end software packages were sold with a small electronic device (sometimes called a "dongle") that plugged into a USB port. Without the device inserted, the software would not run. It did not take long for someone to reverse engineer the software and publish downloadable versions that worked without the dongle.

I see no way to defeat the truly dedicated thief. I believe the real question is, "Is there enough of a market for the real thing, an actual book or maybe just an e-book, to make it profitable to publish?" Sometimes collector value is enough to make publishing an actual book worthwhile to the author. You may want to talk to Mr. Kaufman about his experiences.

As for me, I would likely buy one or two more of your books. I like your style. I am not partial to e-books, though. I may be a dinosaur.

Chris Aguilar
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Chris Aguilar » June 29th, 2015, 3:38 pm

Al Schneider wrote:Here is the security device I had in mind. It looks kinda like a key fob for a car. It is a small thing that has two buttons and can easily be held in one's hand. It is at the end of a USB cable the other end having a type A USB plug. The book itself is a file that can be downloaded over the internet. It is a scrambled file. To use it, the file is downloaded into your computer. The device is plugged into a USB port. A screen pops up that asks for the name of the file. When that is entered, the first page of the book appears. The two buttons on the fob move the pages forward and backward. The presentation contains text, pics, and video. That is the essence of the operation. The goal was to keep it simple for the user, provide additional user features, and be somewhat easy to implement.

...


Al Schneider


How would that stop someone from simply taking a digital photo of each page and re-assembling that into an unprotected file? Video could be similarly ripped right from the screen, sometimes with "device level" screen capture drivers that can often easily bypass the kind of protection you posit.

I understand/sympathize with your desire to protect your IP, but (as someone who greatly admires your work) the system you mention would turn me off to the point that I'd likely spend my dollars on product which doesn't preemptively assume that I have dishonest intentions.

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Richard Kaufman » June 29th, 2015, 3:43 pm

Al, the main problem with any solution is that the more-determined thief can make the initial purchase, then do screen grabs. Even if the document is watermarked, they can always be photoshopped out.

The best anti-piracy solution I've seen is Nicholas Night's Revizzit software, but it is subject to the same issue noted above: the material can be screengrabbed (or photographed) off the screen and then put online. It also doesn't allow people who pay for things to "own" them since the material only lives on the Revizzit website. This has proven to be a stumbling block for many purchasers.

There really is no way avoid piracy, however most folks who download stuff are not the folks who would have paid for it anyway. They just collect the ebooks (songs, movies, etc.).

My 2 cents!
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Richard Kaufman
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Richard Kaufman » June 29th, 2015, 3:44 pm

Chris and I were thinking the exact same thing and he posted his note a few seconds before mine!
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Chris Aguilar
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Chris Aguilar » June 29th, 2015, 3:55 pm

This thread reminds me that I need to go to L&L's website and pick up Al's book, which is currently on sale.

Al Schneider
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Al Schneider » June 29th, 2015, 4:15 pm

Well, let me make this clear. I am aware of the objections you all present. My plan was based on the idea that it was aimed a low production volumes and the people doing the rip off would not profit with the effort in procuring the material. This device is aimed a Chinese businesses that want to get this stuff and sell it in volume. The idea is that if there is no volume in it, ripping screens would not offer a return on investment. All of the work I did with L&L is being sold by Chinese companies. I have about 30 books out there for sale. Someone is pirating the most popular book. My plan now is to produce a lot of low level books so the Chinese have no interest in them.

That said, I accept you believe it to be a non-productive idea.

Thanks

Al Schneider
The single absolute truth is that we don't know.

Chris Aguilar
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Chris Aguilar » June 29th, 2015, 4:27 pm

I don't think you realize how easy it is to rip screens and video Al.

It only needs to be done once and that one time could happen in just a few hours.

I'm guessing that your time is precious to you and I'd hate to see you spend large swaths of it pursuing something that will only provide you with the illusion of security.

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erdnasephile
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby erdnasephile » June 29th, 2015, 4:45 pm

Mr. Schneider:

I respect you greatly and (legitimately) own several of your works.

I also sympathize with you and am irritated that you are getting ripped off.

However, I wouldn't care for a system that would require me to keep track of one more dongle in order to simply use it. As Chris and RK have said, I don't think it will cut down on those that wish to pirate, and will represent only an inconvenience to the honest.

All that said, I'd still rather have a physical book any time!

As far as the props go: I think I'd like to see you sell them separately as an option to buy only for those that can prove they purchased the book legitimately with a dated receipt from an authorized retailer. This system would obviously be easier to enforce if people could only purchase the book from you.

I do hope your cup routine sees the publishing light of day--it sounds terrific!

Pete McCabe
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Pete McCabe » June 29th, 2015, 4:51 pm

Al,

I have the highest regard for you and your work, but we haven't met in person. So it makes it a little tricky for me to give you what is, essentially, personal advice on your technology problem.

My advice is: don't spend another second thinking about people pirating it. You will never get that time back.

This is based on the following points which I believe are true:
1) There is nothing you can do to stop piracy of digital media. If your customer can view the content, they can make a copy of the content.
2) Anti-piracy measures make life harder for your actual customers.
3) This is the hard one: the people who get your stuff from piracy websites are not your customers. They will not buy from you. If you make your stuff unpirateable, they will just not have it. This might appeal to your personal sense of justice, but it will not have any effect on your actual sales.

So the only net effect of any anti-piracy measures you might contemplate will be to make life harder for your customers, and hence lower your sales. And the time you spend trying to solve this will only deprive the magic world of more of your excellent work.

Al Schneider
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Al Schneider » June 29th, 2015, 4:58 pm

OKAY, I GET IT
The single absolute truth is that we don't know.

Al Schneider
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Al Schneider » June 29th, 2015, 5:11 pm

REALLY, I GET IT
The single absolute truth is that we don't know.

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lybrary
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby lybrary » June 29th, 2015, 6:13 pm

Al, I know exactly which Chinese companies you are referring to. I have been battling them over the last year. With a combination of DMCA take-down notices and being registered in their own IP protection systems I was able to remove thousands of pirated products. However, once the products have been removed the same pirates tend to re-list them under different store names. Just last week I was on the phone for two hours with the legal department of one of these companies. Together with my lawyer we have developed a new strategy. If you email me I can tell you more.

From my 15 years experience selling downloads as well as a lifetime in electronics and software I can tell you what are the components of a successful strategy. The growth and success of Lybrary.com are proof of it:

1) Use a large and solid retail partner with a large built in and loyal customer base. It will sound like an ad, but Lybrary.com is the world's largest magic download retailer and we generate by far the largest sales for our authors. The bigger your legitimate sales are the less piracy matters.

2) Offer after sale services which are only available to the legitimate buyer which pirates can't copy. For example, our Lybrary.com product forum is one such after sale service where our authors can provide additional information to their customers, or answer questions. This kind of information is much harder to copy and provide for a pirate than a PDF.

3) For the large and systematic copyright infringers we use legal mechanisms or other targeted actions to address them directly.

Any protection scheme I have analyzed will more likely reduce sales to honest customers than prevent the real thieves to get a hold of it. I wish there would be something that would actually work, but there is nothing I have seen that makes it better than the strategy I have outline above.
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Joe Mckay
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Joe Mckay » June 29th, 2015, 6:18 pm

Something I like about Chris's site is that he he permanently hosts the files you have purchased on a digital account.

This is really useful since my laptop seems to break down every 4-5 years. And having access to my files on Chris's site is a lifesaver.

Al Schneider
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Al Schneider » June 29th, 2015, 7:03 pm

lybrary
Thank you for your kind response. It is vastly better then a roll over and die attitude. Reminds me of my family. When I was 15 my father put his arm around me and told me I was incompetent and that I should accept it. When I graduated from high school I decided to major in physics in college. My family was against it. My brother begged me not to pursue a physics degree. Well, I did and I got a BS degree in physics. I do not look fondly on people that tell me not to spend time on something. I have spent my life working on computers. I build my own now. I was hired by a company that specializes in government security in Unix systems. They hired me to do an intensive study on internal operating systems security. I been there and done that. However, dealing with the Chinese is new to me. I am told to just accept it. Well, you are saying there is a way to handle it. I do not know what I will do from here but I like your attitude.

Al Schneider
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Chris Aguilar
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Chris Aguilar » June 29th, 2015, 7:18 pm

Hi Al,

I apologize for taking time out of my busy day to actually attempt to help you out here.

Rest assured that I will not make that mistake again.

"Roll over and die?" Really?

If you think that's an appropriate response to people who have gone out of their way to answer your request for advice, then I'm going to suggest that you park your copy protection "dongle" where the sun don't shine.

Al Schneider
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Al Schneider » June 29th, 2015, 8:22 pm

Well, you finally made a decent comment.
The single absolute truth is that we don't know.

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Bill Marquardt
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Bill Marquardt » June 29th, 2015, 8:34 pm

Well, to opine on your SECOND question, my own preference would be to have the instructions on how to make the props, with the option to buy them ready made separately. I believe Dr. Larry Barnowski does that with some of his effects. I actually bought a couple of them.

On the other hand, I seriously doubt that I will ever attempt to build that watch and box thingy in Tommy Wonder's book. I enjoy reading his books, though.

As to the piracy thing, if you can develop a method or a device that thwarts the thieves then you could probably make a fortune from that. As you have seen, it is widely believed to be nearly impossible. So, hey. Go for it.

Jack Shalom
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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Jack Shalom » June 29th, 2015, 9:22 pm

Just a comment from a slightly different perspective.

I really, really like physical books. If I buy an ebook, it's generally for one of two reasons.

1) I'm impatient to receive it, and I want instant gratification.
2) It's cheaper.

Seems to me, the dongle solution defeats reason 1. And with the price of the dongle and postage, you're starting to cut into reason 2.

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Re: Al Schneider Seeks Your Opinion

Postby Jonathan Townsend » June 29th, 2015, 10:09 pm

No vote re: supplier device level of DRM for magic data.

I enjoyed what this author has to say on the matter: (information doesn't want to be free)

http://craphound.com/news/2014/09/08/in ... o-be-free/

so i bought the audiobook version.
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time


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