Thursday, November 22, 2012

Profits to Authors

There's been a bit of a discussion on one of the mailing lists that I'm a member of around libraries and it got me thinking.

Recently, the Humble Bundle people put out the "Humble eBook Bundle". Humble Bundles, started out with computer games. Amongst some very cool ideas such as cross platform games i.e. you could download the games for Linux, Mac OSX and Windows, they also allow you to pay what you like with 3 sliders - one for the developers, one for charity and one for the infrastructure (i.e. the website).

The really nice bit about this model is that the purchasers make the decisions. If I buy a book for say... $30, how much is going to the author? Given that I was able to buy a hard copy of "Nation" by Terry Pratchett soon after release for $10 at Borders (when Borders was still around), I would guess that the author gets VERY little for each copy sold.

Books are a fickle beast. They have no real secondary income. Movies and the like have merchandise. Music have concerts. What do authors sell in support of their books? More books. So the age old security problem comes into play. If you make it hard for your users, your users will work against you. Take the good old password - changed fortnightly. Can't be the same as previous passwords. You can almost guarantee that at least one person will have a post it note around their desk (sometimes right on the monitor) with their password on it.

If things are difficult with ebooks - such as DRM (Digital Restrictions/Rights Management) - then you can guarantee that people will find ways of circumventing DRM. A friend of mine had a voucher to purchase music online. He went and downloaded a song and tried to move it off to his MP3 player. It was a no-go. So he figured "fair enough", and brought another copy. Same thing again. He was trying to do the right thing.

And then there's the whole ebook compatibility problems. Kindle for example, will not work with the Auckland Library's system - the most popular ebook reader on the market. This situation only arises due to DRM.

Taking all of this into account, I'm proposing the Humble Bundle model applied to individual works with minimums set and some improvements.

  1. Take publishers out of the equation. Currently they're not really doing much for the industry. I've brought books recently that have had me wanting to tear someone limb from limb due to bad copy editing (i.e. typos that have been printed. Okay if you find a couple in a book. Irritating when you find 1 every 3 pages or so). Marketing really only results in books displays in book stores.
  2. Create a crowd sourcing framework. Allow readers to correct typos. Introduce a kind of updating framework - so that a downloaded book could be updated. I have a copy of "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman in which he talks about the various versions of that book.
  3. Crowd source marketing. Take various metrics such as the average amount spent on a book, the ratings and reviews given by readers etc. to determine whether a book is "featured" or not.
  4. Set a minimum contribution to the author based upon what they get per book at the moment. This gives people a bit of transparency into the current practise and allows them to buck the system and contribute more - to the authors. Not the book store. Not the publishers.
  5. Offer the works DRM free in multiple formats. People, for the most part, want to act in moral ways. In which case, they'd be willing to spend the money - and they'd feel better about it if they knew it was all going to the author. So the little piracy that did happen would only really be as bad as the trade of second hand books - of which the authors aren't currently making anything anyway.
So okay, there's a danger here. The quality of works could be just plain awful. While I hate to point out that a lot of the music released under a Creative Commons license has you thinking of a 16 year old boy alone in his room (I'm not sure which activity is worse), there are some really stand out artists as well. And the same would apply here. Perhaps you'd have a few people who would read the works and give them an initial ranking. How much can you tell from a synopsis? A kind of biography would help too i.e. Has written 10 works - 3 of which got above a certain ranking etc. Basically, these aren't insurmountable problems.

I guess the real question is: How would you get started? The way I see it, you need 3 parties around the table. Authors - because such a framework would be useless without content. Developers to put the frameworks into place and change that framework to need (because let's face it - you never really know how something is going to work until after it's been built) and buyers.

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