On a more serious note today, I’m going to introduce a new scheme – Author Associates, intended as a model to strengthen the relationship between writers and enthusiastic readers. I want to look again at Andy Woodworth’s eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights, and suggest how we could give our readers real ownership of the eBooks they buy (which Amazon denies at the moment). And I want to show why Smashwords is one of the indie writer’s most important tools.
First, let’s recap. In my last post, I explained (well, narrated really) why I’m increasing the price of my e-novel – to $5.95 in the US and £3.75 in the UK (plus all the various delivery charges and taxes that eBooks so unfairly attract). The reason was to change reader expectations. At $0.99, the expectation is probably low, and I may be damaging my book’s prospects in two ways: first by not attracting the right kind of reader; and second, by attracting the wrong kind of reader.
‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ is not a value judgement – it’s not the same as saying ‘good’ and ‘bad’. In the book market, there’s plenty of room for both fast-food and fine-dining. Both have their place. But you’d better be sure that if your customers are expecting McDonalds, you don’t offer soft candlelight, an expensive wine-list, discreet table-side service. Or vice versa. You’ll just get them confused – and probably unhappy.
What sort of customers do I want? I’m looking for discriminating readers – people who’ll come to the table with high expectations. They want a good yarn told with craftsmanship, artistry, polish. By increasing the recommended retail price, I hope I’ll be able to find them.
Yet in earlier posts, I’ve often promoted the importance of sharing and the value of free. Not long ago, I wrote:
‘If I look at the books and the authors I love best, almost without exception I started reading because of the recommendation of a teacher or reviewer I respected, or a friend or a family member. In many cases, I was a borrower, then a convert, then a purchaser.’
Look at the copyright notice on The Lebanese Troubles and you’ll see that I’ve encouraged readers to share the book with friends and family, instead of insisting (as most eBooks do) that each reader must purchase a separate copy. It’s not because I don’t need the money: like most writers, I need to make enough to support my habit. But I’m taking the long-term view.
Will readers really recommend? If my work’s good enough, I believe they will. Our libraries and music collections define us: they show our friends who we really are. That’s why Goodreads is so popular. And if we spot a new talent, so much the better: we can claim credit for being one of the first to notice. Yes, people do talk when they find a writer or a musician they really enjoy.
Here goes our schizophrenic writer again, raising the price on the one hand while advocating sharing on the other. How can this make sense?
The recommended retail price sends my value signal to the market – and that’s where the price will settle in the long run. But at this point in my writing career, volume sales are far less important than winning the support of key ‘influencers’ – people who care enough about my writing project to become participants themselves. I need readers to post thoughtful reviews on the key reader sites – Amazon (US and UK), Smashwords, Nook, Goodreads. I need them to recommend my work to friends. And not least, I need direct feedback.
Where am I going to find these people? Right here, on this blog, if I use it properly. By investing the same amount of creative energy and care into the blog as I would into a novel, it becomes an interactive showcase for my writing. I hear some writers complaining that blogging takes time away from their real writing. For me, this is real writing, and it’s the place where I can interact best with my readers – putting on a series of live gigs. If you enjoy the gig enough, chances are that you may start buying the published material … and hopefully you’ll tell your friends too, so they can catch up with the next performance.
It’s because this core group of influencers is critical to my success that I’m launching my new scheme. This is how Author Associates works.
If you enjoy the blog, or already have a copy of ‘The Lebanese Troubles’, you are invited to register. Then, as an associate, you may:
1. Purchase your own copy of ‘The Lebanese Troubles’ for just $1.99, via a discount coupon that will allow the eBook to be read in any format. This offer will expire after 200 coupons have been issued.
2. Apply for a batch of 5 gift coupons, allowing friends and family to get the eBook free of charge on your recommendation.
3. Apply for up to 20 discount coupons, allowing members of your reading-group to purchase the eBook at half-price.
4. Register your TLT purchase. Then, if you have purchased for one e-reader, you will be able to view the eBook in any format. You will also be entitled to a free replacement copy, should your original copy become inaccessible, for whatever reason.
5. View and comment on draft chapters of my next novel, scheduled from August 2011 onwards.
Before we look at implementation, let’s just pause for a moment on clause 4 – being able to view the book in any e-reader format, and getting a free replacement copy if your original copy is lost or broken. My thinking here has been greatly influenced (again!) by Andy Woodworth’s e-Book Reader’s Bill of Rights. Here’s his complaint.
‘Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.’
I wholeheartedly agree with Andy’s stand. In the digital age, equipment manufacturers and content providers have profited enormously from built-in redundancy. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the Betamax/VHS divide in the early days of VTR. When VHS finally won out, my whole investment in Betamax videos was wasted: if I loved a film, I had to buy my Betamax version all over again to watch it on my new VHS machine. And then again when DVD swept in to replace video. And then again when I moved back from the Mid-East to the UK, only to find that my DVD player wouldn’t work with European disks, and that my new European player read my existing collection as a series of question-marks. It happens with printers as well. I’ve been using my trusty printer for years, but now they’ve stopped issuing the ink cartridges for that model. And how many times does Microsoft want me to buy their operating system? It’s just an operating system, for goodness sake! I don’t care!
We’re going the same way with eBooks, unfortunately. Yes, there’s apparently an industry-standard – ePub – and the ePub version is fine for the iPad and the Nook. But not on the Kindle. And if I publish via Amazon, using the .mobi standard, that’s fine for the Kindle, but not anything else. I worry about closed systems. I worry even more when I see, in the small print, that the purchase I thought I’d just made is only a license: the eBook doesn’t really belong to me, as a printed book does. If the only concern is to maximize sales and profitability – to sell the same product again and again as hardware is updated or replaced – then all this makes perfect sense. But for anyone who feels that the customer’s interests should come first, redundancy marketing is repugnant.
The good news is that – because I’ve taken the indie path to publishing – I can take a stand and offer my readers a much better deal. With a little help from Smashwords.
Smashwords is a very popular digital publishing platform, but I hear the occasional criticism from authors who say they never actually sell anything there; readers flock to Smashwords looking for free books, but when they want to buy, they go to Amazon. That may be true at present, but it’s a misunderstanding of the Smashwords mission. The site has been built by a writer for writers, and it’s a place where the writer’s interests always come first, where we can truly exercise our freedom to publish, price and market in the way we choose.
When I publish there, my eBook is automatically converted into 10 different formats. So no matter which e-reading device the reader prefers – Kindle, iPad, Nook, the Sony Reader, the PC or laptop, a mobile phone – one of the Smashwords versions is going to do the job (- not necessarily perfectly, but we’ll come to that another time).
The second huge Smashwords benefit is that it gives me complete control and authority over any discounts that I choose to offer. It gives me the flexibility to offer gift vouchers and discount coupons via Author Associates; better still, it has a reporting system that allows me to relate a coupon number to an individual associate, so that I can track coupons already used, and monitor the effectiveness of my scheme.
There’s still work to be done to perfect the new scheme. Smashwords doesn’t tell me who’s purchased my books. Nor should they. I personally wouldn’t want to be pursued by every writer whose book I’d downloaded just to take a look-see. It’s important that Author Associates should be an opt-in scheme for readers who are genuinely enthusiastic, and that no-one should feel pressurized to participate. But that means I’ll need to build a special sign-up tool here on the blog. (Don’t be surprised if you see scaffolding here in the next few days.) I’m going to need a good database too, to keep on top of the interactions with associates. Luckily in another life, I’m a web/database designer – so I’ll be able to cope. No doubt there’ll be other teething problems…
But to get started, there’s nothing like starting. So if you’re interested in joining me as an Associate, and taking advantage of any or all the benefits of the scheme, just let me know right now in a brief comment, and I’ll get back to you by email with more details.
Triple Filtrée – No Smooth Outcome. Positioning the novel – as a large potato, or a large beer?
Whose eBook – Yours, Mine or Amazon’s? Am I buying the eBook or just licensing it?
Go On! Lend My Book! – My original post on book-sharing – including a sample ‘sharing’ copyright notice.