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Old 10-23-2006, 03:03 PM   #1
nekokami
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Lightbulb Suggestion to authors: Alternate online publisher

Ok, fine. The big publishers (except Baen) are convinced that everyone is going to steal/pirate/recklessly broadcast eBooks without crippling DRM, which none of us want.

Question is, do the authors feel that way? Let's not forget, they're the ones who create the content. They sell to publishers because publishers buy their content. However, many authors are less than happy with their relationship with traditional publishers and booksellers. Authors sometimes have reason to question whether the publishers are being honest about sales, they are frustrated with publisher decisions about marketing, etc. Authors I have communicated with are also somewhat disturbed by the trend of Amazon and similar to promote the resale of books. The authors themselves don't get much per book as it is. Reselling books gets them nothing.

There are a lot of services a good publisher can provide, both to authors and readers:
  • Editorial services, i.e. selecting good readable content from the "slush pile" -- but what if their opinions don't agree with mine?
  • Working with authors to improve content (except when editors actually mess up good books because they can't help fiddling with them)
  • Copyediting/proofreading (except when copyeditors make changes that authors or readers don't like)
  • Artist/illustration coordination
  • Marketing and promotional activities
  • Printing, order fulfillment, shipping
  • Keeping track of which authors are owed what for their books

But the present publisher model has been around for a long time. So could we do better now?

What if we had a website where:
  • Anyone could create an account and upload a book/document, and the system would record and display the author and time/date of upload. If desired, a comparison could be used to ensure that the upload seems to be relatively original (e.g. a system like TurnItIn could be used, and the score could be automatically displayed next to the file entry).
  • Books/documents in this repository could be purchased for download for whatever the author feels like charging, with a small cut for website maintainance. No DRM. The text would be formatted in some relatively open format, e.g. RTF, unless the document involves a lot of complex formatting and needs something with more page definition. A clear "license," selected from a list of prepared license documents or uploaded by the author, would describe what licensees are allowed to do with the text, but this would be based on human contracts, not technological fixes that don't work.
  • Anyone could recommend changes to the author, using a communication method (private messages) on the site. This could also be used to report copyright violations, if someone spots one. (Authors could also set up discussion areas, if they wanted to. So could readers.)
  • Anyone could offer to copy-edit a book/document, or illustrate a book/document, and either be compensated for their time by the author, if the author and editor come to some agreement, or:
  • Anyone can review/recommend a book/document from the list and, if someone buys it based on that review, they get a cut of the proceeds. If the author's license allows it, the reviewer can copyedit and/or format and/or illustrate the book, as well. They are compensated for their effort by people finding it worthwhile to buy copies through their recommendation links/lists.
  • Customers can rate reviewers and reviews as well as documents, and the system can compute relationships such that if I like the books that A reviews, and A likes the books that B reviews, I can get a weighted list that shows A's picks as well as B's picks. This information can be used to customize views of the document list.
  • Anyone can tag a document with keywords using a folksonomy so similar documents/books can be found, or append a "if you like this I think you'll like X" link with their affiliate code. After a while, purchase data (or even text comparison data) might also help find similar works.
  • The system can automatically produce lists of "bestsellers," "new books," etc. in any of a variety of categories.
  • Participants with specific academic credentials could also register and "peer review" entries, to form low-cost online journals.
  • To further promote broad readership, a "print on demand" function might be available, provided the author of the work didn't already have a restrictive contract with some traditional publisher/printer.

The idea is to distribute publisher functions. Anyone can become an author, if their content is good enough. Anyone can become an editor, if their judgment matches that of enough other people to make it worthwhile to look for their picks. Everyone who works gets paid, in proportion to how much their work is valued by others. This would be different from Amazon and other systems that allow users to enter reviews and create lists of books because reviewers would be compensated when a customer buys a book because of their review. It always amazes me how much effort some people put into writing reviews on a site like Amazon. Some of them are really good reviews, too. I've bought books based on some of those reviews. Those folks should be compensated for their effort.

This kind of system could be jumpstarted by starting with reviews which include "affiliate" links to existing content (even if it does have DRM), so it doesn't need to run exclusively on its own authors. If the system could also get an initial volume of valuable content (e.g. the Baen books might be a good fit, or Cory Doctorow, if he wants to participate), more authors might start to see this as a viable alternative to working with traditional publishing houses. They wouldn't get the advances up front, but they would get nearly all the proceeds, and their books would stay "in print" longer, and be available to a wider range of readers, probably for lower cost. The system would also be more honest about the nature of a license, and more specific about what the content creator intends with the license. If the author selects an option that says "you can loan a copy of this file to a friend -- encourage them to pay for a license if they like it," we'll all know we can do that. If the author picks a license that says "I priced this book dirt cheap so your friends can all afford their own copies," we'll know that, too. (Probably only a few authors, like Cory Doctorow, will suggest that downloaders freely forward their books to all and sundry. But an option to let customers set their own value, with or without a recommended price, could also be available to authors.)

So, does a system like this already exist somewhere? Or am I the only one who thinks this would be cool?
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Old 10-23-2006, 03:49 PM   #2
yvanleterrible
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Are you proposing something like a writer COOP ?

It might be a tough sell for those on a contract with other companies, but it's a good idea!
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Old 10-23-2006, 04:33 PM   #3
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A writer/reader coop, yes. And I wonder how many authors have sold their electronic distribution rights? Even those who have might be able to get them back if they want to. If traditional publishers don't want to publish eBooks, why shouldn't authors do this for themselves?
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Old 10-24-2006, 07:55 AM   #4
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Elements of this remind be of if:book's GAMER THEORY project [http://www.futureofthebook.org/gamertheory/] and MIT's WE>ME [http://www.wearesmarter.org/]. Have you checked them out?
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Old 10-24-2006, 10:10 AM   #5
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Most, if not all, the romance epublishers offer their books in non DRM'ed format. Ellora's Cave is probably the biggest success story in terms of epublishing. They have been recognized as an RWA publisher so that their authors are now considered "published" authors. They do not DRM their books. I think you pay a premium for their books because of it, though.
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Old 10-24-2006, 11:01 AM   #6
Bob Russell
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Wow, that's tremendous Jane. I had no idea that romance epublishers went without DRM. But even better, it has apparently been successful.

That seems like just the sort of thing to get other publishers trying it for some of their books. I think newer ebooks without DRM could even be priced at the same level as discounted paper (e.g. from Amazon). But one would sure hope to see the price fall below the paper prices.
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Old 10-24-2006, 11:30 AM   #7
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Let me also add that so few authors really understand epublishing and from what I have heard from authors, even the ones with "bestselling" ebooks, those numbers are a tiny, tiny blip on the overall sales screen. I don't know if that will change or if DRM would change it but print published authors really don't care about their epublished presence. (I am talking, of course, of romance authors).
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Old 10-24-2006, 01:59 PM   #8
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Hmmm.... thanks for putting that into perspective.
Unfortunately, sometimes a "perspective reset" is quite a bummer.
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Old 10-24-2006, 02:05 PM   #9
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Worse, I've had reports from print authors saying that the royalty percentage on ebooks is less which then tends to drive their desire for ebook sales even lower. I don't really understand that business but alas, I am a reader, not an author or a publisher.
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Old 10-24-2006, 02:13 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by da_jane
Worse, I've had reports from print authors saying that the royalty percentage on ebooks is less which then tends to drive their desire for ebook sales even lower. I don't really understand that business but alas, I am a reader, not an author or a publisher.
Well, that would explain why authors don't care about eBooks. And it would be a point in favor of the kind of coop publisher I am suggesting, as well. Publishers have gotten used to setting the terms for both authors and readers. They do provide some useful services, as I noted above, but I think it's time to open up that aspect of the business and let the air and light in.
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Old 10-24-2006, 02:20 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by STML
Elements of this remind be of if:book's GAMER THEORY project [http://www.futureofthebook.org/gamertheory/ and MIT's WE>ME [http://www.wearesmarter.org/. Have you checked them out?
Both of these are very interesting sites (damaged links corrected in this quote). They each deal with a single book being co-authored by a group. I can envision the kind of site I was describing enabling this sort of project -- I think it would be a natural growth and a fascinating direction in community publishing. However, not every book would need to be this open. An author who simply wanted to post their book, complete, and charge for it with a standard license could also do that.
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Old 10-24-2006, 10:13 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by da_jane
Worse, I've had reports from print authors saying that the royalty percentage on ebooks is less which then tends to drive their desire for ebook sales even lower.
Clearly print publishers want nothing to do with e-book publishing, hence, the low percentages. This suggests that the job of e-book publishing may have to fall to the authors themselves, and not the traditional pub houses. Of course, the value of the web is that it is possible to do exactly that (as I have).

A smaller version of the co-op idea may be author-editor teams, selling via their own web sites, and inking separate print deals (with no e-book limitation clauses) with publishers. Either established authors with some clout, or successful e-book authors, will have to be the first to set the example for others by demanding an "e-book freedom" clause. Later, when other authors renegotiate their publisher contracts, they can pursue the "e-book freedom" clause and e-publish on their own.
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Old 10-29-2006, 12:45 PM   #13
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Five of us spent three weeks at the start of the year working on an idea like this. Can't remember why we never finished thinking it through properly...
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Old 10-30-2006, 11:31 AM   #14
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I think most of what would be needed, software wise, is already in wiki systems like Tiki (http://tw.org). At least to use affiliate codes from existing sales websites. A very small amount of custom code could automatically add a "buy from bookseller x" link to posts, wiki entries, etc. and people could update their profiles with whichever affiliate links they wanted.

Setting up to actually accept and sell the eBooks, though, would require additional SW. Especially to add the "check for plagiarism" step, if desired. There are systems out there that could probably be integrated (e.g. http://www.zizzoo.com/guides/ebook/) but I know I don't have time to try to figure it out right now. I think managing a system like this would need to be at least a part-time job, possibly a full-time job, and I have two of those already (work and grad school).
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