ebooks and making a living
You have this book that you want to get out there to as big a readership as possible and hopefully make some money. What should you do?
I don't really know the answer here, but I do know enough to understand that simple answers aren't enough.
Dismissing paper is not a good idea yet -- there is still life in the old beast yet. If you can get your book published via conventional means then it could be a good idea. You might still hitch a ride on it, even become famous, make a fortune... who knows?
Dismissing locked ebooks completely might not be fully justified either. There are a few companies that make some trade in locked ebooks -- I don't think they are making large amounts of dough, but they do seem to be getting by. If the locks become more rational and more friendly then even I might consider them again... but I doubt it.
Dismissing open (unlocked) ebooks is, I believe, a big mistake. I think this is where most of the future activity for literature will be.
So how can I use open ebooks to reach as big a readership as possible and preferably make a living along the way?
With no impediments for readers, open ebooks have the potential to spread more quickly than the other two choices. There are two clear problems:
- First is publicity. How do you attract readers? With paper books and locked ebooks the publishers do the legwork for you, getting reviews in magazines and in newspapers, getting spots for you on TV and radio, in literary festivals and other events, book signings in bookshops, and so on. That part is currently missing from open ebooks, but because it is early days I believe we will see it soon. As paper publishers lose ground, expect to see more freelance publicists who each service a stable of writers. I think we will see more ebook review websites too, and online broadcasts. Also, open ebooks have a potentially very powerful means of propagating. The minority of readers who pay for the ebook support the author, but the majority of non-paying readers form a (hopefully) vast network of free publicists, passing the ebook on to others as word of mouth publicity. It may take a J.K. Rowling type of phenomenon in open ebooks to make everybody sit up and pay attention to how effective this can be.
- The second is income. Micropayments thru PayPal are the key here I believe. Here are a few models off the top of my head:
There are probably other models I haven't thought of.
- Donation - You can put a button on your ebook and website to let people donate if they like the book. A certain proportion of your readership will donate. In these early days that will probably not amount to enough for a living unless you achieve some degree of fame. But a lot of people are already starting to do this.
- Subscription - you can send stories/novels/chapters to subscribers. This could be a little like the old serialised novels. Or make the first novel available completely free on a website, and subsequent ones available to those who pay subscription.
- Early access - this is a little like Baen Books' model. They make books available at some point in the future for free, but if you want them early, now, you pay for the privilege.
But it is early days in an exciting new era, so leaping into the void and expecting big things from this promising new form might not turn out quite like you expect.
I, personally, think the move to unlocked ebooks is a certainty. The only questions are when and how. I'm sure I'll be surprised at some developments that will aid or impede this transition, but in the long term I think it is irresistible.
I also think open ebooks are a great force for good... more on that another time.
Miriam English 2006