One book does not a reversal of policy make

I don’t share the optimism of Teleread and Kindle Nation, but it appears that Amazon has not entirely deserted free ebooks.

They do, however, remain committed to controlling virtually every aspect of the Kindle that they’ve leased you, which is not terribly consumer-friendly.

Still, at least it’s not as bad as it originally seemed.

Free ebooks back at Amazon- John Lutz Urge to Kill | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home.

Free content doesn’t mean free everything

Over and over, when someone proposes giving away something for free in order to make more money on whatever else it is you’re selling, whether it’s the hard copy of your book, the tickets to your show, or anything else, some people see “free” and can’t understand that it doesn’t end there.  People get so mad that you’d suggest that everyone starve because “kids these days” don’t want to pay for music.

One of the comments on the really nice article linked below is one such person.

Eric: I have to say that this model saddens me.  Where’s the respect for the value of the artist’s labor when its given away free?  In over 25 years as a music writer for film/tv/theater, etc. I have many times been approached with some version of “We don’t have much budget on this one but do us a solid and there should be a good budget on the next….”  NEVER, has one of these ever come back with a decent paying gig and more than once people have come back with, “Oh, but last time you were able to do this for us.  How come?”

First of all, it’s clear the guy didn’t read the post. No one was suggesting you do the show for free.  The author of the article (Derek, not Eric) didn’t actually say to give anything away for free.  He just advocated making an appeal to fans to buy your cd. Pay what you want, even if it’s nothing, but walk out of the show with a copy of the cd.

The point is that, in his experience, the bands make more money this way.  This has nothing to do with giving away your work for some idealistic notion of good for society.  It has nothing to do with disrespecting creative works. The opposite, in fact – it’s all about compensating the creator in a way that allows him or her to continue creating, and treats fans like fans, not potential thieves.

You have to stop and think – is it better to make a living doing what you love, or to be compensated for each and every use of your work?

Article: Emphasize meaning over price = More paid sales | Derek Sivers via CwF RtB on Twitter

Infinite goods and artificial scarcity

It’s no secret that I read Techdirt a lot. I think they have a lot of good ideas, and a good attitude about things.  A lot of the ideas behind Manfred Macx are ideas that Techdirt talks about all the time.

I was arguing with a friend about this article, which talks about creating artificial scarcity in place of something in infinite supply.  They give an analogy – what if we had Star Trek replicators for food, so everyone in the world could always have enough food, and no one would have to pay for it?  Who, then, would take this food away from the starving?  My friend argued that this would be terrible, taking jobs from everyone who works in the food industry.

Unfortunately, it’s not a very good analogy.  There’s no real substitute for food – people have to eat.  Whether or not you consider  high-fructose corn syrup to be food, you can’t escape the need for calories to survive.  For the analogy to hold, we’d have to replace the entire music industry, or the entire publishing industry, with something free. No one is talking about doing this.

A better analogy would be if the replicator only made tomatoes.  You could have as many tomatoes as you wanted, they’d always be perfect and delicious, and they’d always be free.  This would put tomato farmers out of business. But these tomato farmers could likely start growing something else instead.  And what happens to the rest of the economy?  Pizza and pasta restaurants suddenly find that a major ingredient in many of their dishes just became free.  Now, for the same dish, they can charge less, or buy higher quality ingredients, or make more profit.  And if you’re a really talented cook specializing in tomatoes?  Your skills are now in very high demand.

And there is still a demand for the people who bring the tomatoes from the replicator to your table.  There is still a demand for the person who stews and cans the tomatoes, or dices and seasons them.  And all the other food items, the ones that aren’t in infitnite supply, still need people to produce, process, and distribute them.

This is what’s happening in the music industry, and starting to happen in the publishing industry.  Some parts of the industries are finding their functions obsolete.  Instead of looking at the money they could save with electronic distribution, and what good use they could put that money to, the industry is seeking new laws and regulations to limit the infinite supply so business can continue as usual.

Even if every single song, book, and movie was distributed digitally for free, there would still be a need for the music, publishing, and movie industries.  There would still be demand for editors, producers, marketers, and all sorts of other services that these industries have always provided.

Reasonable people aren’t calling for the abolition of the music, publishing, and movie industries.  They’re just asking these industries to look to the future, and stop trying to limit supply to protect obsolete business models.

Edit to add:  This post has been translated to Spanish by a reader.  My Spanish isn’t good enough to read the whole thing, but the parts I understand look good.

Introducing Manfred Macx

It gives me great pleasure to introduce you all to Manfred Macx, a new kind of publishing company.  It’s not a new idea – bands big and small have been doing it for a while, and authors are just starting to try.  But as more and more of our media of all kinds is being distributed digitally, where making an extra copy (or a thousand) is nearly instantaneous and effectively free, we have to rethink the way we compensate creators of content.

At Manfred Macx, the author has a book, and the author has a goal, a target dollar amount that unlocks the electronic version of the book.  The author can sell almost anything;  Paper copies of the book, dinner with the author at a fancy restaurant, a character in the book named after you – whatever.  When the target goal is reached, everyone gets the ebook.

Beyond that, Manfred Macx is creating a community around authors and fans, fostering communication and connection in ways that weren’t possible before the internet changed our lives.

Watch this space for updates, or sign up for the mailing list.  We’re looking for authors right now, and expect the site to go live in November.

This is the sort of thing that will make ereaders work

One of the big problems with ereaders is the cost.  Even if you get a great deal on the reader itself, you’re still stuck paying the exorbitant prices that Amazon and the like charge if you actually want to read a recent book.

The World Digital Library will make available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from cultures around the world, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, architectural drawings, and other significant cultural materials.

Manuscripts, rare books, significant cultural materials – these are the things that are in danger of being lost, things that only exist on paper.  While it’s great to have a paper copy of something written or printed long ago, in the end it’s the content that’s important, and the permanence of the content that’s more important still.

And all for free?  Some time in the not-too-distant future, we’ll see a day when the quality and quantity of free content for ebook readers will make companies like Amazon rethink the way they do business, and maybe even start charging for the real scarcities while giving away the infinite.

World Digital Library via TeleRead

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Digital distribution – doesn’t anyone get it?

This has nothing to do with ebooks directly, but everything to do with the same old problems of creating and distributing non-scarce content.

Jeff Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner, thinks the solution for online television is “asking online users to verify they subscribe to some form of pay TV before they get to watch content on other platforms. Whether consumers pay through their cable company, the telephone company or a satellite provider doesn’t matter. This, Bewkes says, will preserve a robust environment for video by making sure that no matter where it is watched, it continues to benefit from a dual-revenue stream of subscriptions and advertising.”  Check out the rest of the article.

The problem here is that, once again, the distributor is looking to preserve the old ways of making money without a thought to how to provide more value to the customer.

You know why Hulu is great?  They provide easy-to-access, totally free video online.  They show commercials, but not many of them, and they try to make the ones they do show count.  Most of them are a little longer than your typical tv commercial, but usually quirky and just more interesting than your average commercial.  I’ve found myself actually paying attention to commercials on Hulu.

And of course, the big content providers are constantly trying to kill Hulu.  In the end, they probably will, making everyone worse off than before.

So, why won’t this “dual revenue stream” model work?  First of all, it will be impossible to implement with anything resembling the convenience of Hulu.  How do you prevent sharing of accounts?  That is, me and 1,000 of my friends get one cable subscription, and share a user id?  Well, what the cable companies will do is limit the number of computers you can use, or limit the IP addresses, or something like that.  Inevitably, this will prevent legitimate uses of the service.  For example, in my house we have four computers regularly in use – my personal laptop, my work laptop, my wife’s laptop, and the desktop hooked up to the tv.  Can my one cable subscription allow me to watch on any one of those?  If so, how can it prevent me from giving my user id to my neighbor?

What’s really absurd is the underlying assumption that, without subscription fees as well as advertising revenue, quality video content just can not be produced.  Think about all the television shows that only have one of those – HBO series, for example, or anything on regular network television.  Are these shows of substandard quality?

The next revolution in the way we watch video content won’t come from Time Warner, or any of the other big content providers.  They have too much invested in the old ways of doing things, and are terrified to embrace the new.  For the most part they seem afraid to even try to understand the new.

Online video isn’t about convincing people that “if content has value to them, it’s worth paying for”.  That’s utterly irrational.  Online video is all about taking something in infinite supply and using it to increase the value of things that are finite.  Until the content providers realize this, they will always have to crush the Hulus of the world out of existence before they show people that there’s a better way to do things.

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Guaranteed cash up front, everyone might win

The industry needs to understand that a) fans are always thirsty for more content, b) there’s a lot of content to give, and c) this is not the time to be cheap.

What industry are we talking about here?  Obviously it doesn’t matter.  It happens to be the music industry, but the idea applies to anyone who deals with distributing content.

iTunes Pass, as the article says, is a great idea.  You pay now, and you get everything the artist releases in the future.  It guarantees a payment up front, some of which Apple might even pass on to the artist.  And, since we’re talking about infinitely copyable digital content, there’s no “loss” when the new content is released straight to the customer who has already paid.  Being paid up front means the risk is lower for the content to come – not only is there already money to go towards production, but there is a better sense of the demand, as well as committed fans who may be eager to pay for related goods.

There’s even a small chance that fans win here, too.  If a model like this is successful, and the content companies realize that they don’t have to collect money for each and every transaction, maybe we’ll see some real change in the markets.

Article: Why iTunes Pass is a Great Idea.

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It’s about time someone automated this process

In order to facilitate the process of connecting writers with publishers, then, these two Millennials are building what you might call a digital social marketplace for books. Not eBooks, primarily, though WordHustler is optimized for Amazon’s Kindle and iPhones, but physical books. “We didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel, just to make the wheel turn better,” Walls explains.

This is good news. Over at WordHustler, they’ll take your digital manuscript and submit it to publishers, as well as provide all sorts of tools to help you along the way.  Looking at their FAQ, they understand giving away the stuff that doesn’t cost them much (or anything) and selling the stuff that’s hard.  You can search their database for free, and even bypass all of their services and go straight to the publisher.  But they’re betting that they can print and ship your manuscript and handle it properly at a price that makes it worthwhile to pay them instead of trying it yourself.

When you have a valuable service to sell, it makes sense to give away the related things that promote your service and make it more valuable.

Now, they need to take it one step further.  What about the people who don’t find a publisher?  Or who don’t want a publisher in the traditional sense?  WordHustler already has the digital version of all the manuscripts.  It’s a small step from there to a “store” full of free ebooks.  Rather than gathering dust on the author’s shelf, rejected manuscripts have a new chance at life.  And giving them away for free means that they may still find their niche, making it much easier to find a market for the next book.

And then there are those who aren’t interested in finding a traditional publishing outlet.  There are many more ways to get a book into people’s hands and make money.  Sometimes it doesn’t involve a book at all.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The site sounds really helpful.  If you have something you’re trying to get published, go check them out.

Article:  BNET Media Blog | WordHustler Aims to Build Digital Marketplace for Book Publishing

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If convenience predicts success, the Kindle could be so much more

[Forrester Research] says convenience is key. It defines the concept in this way: A “comprehensive measure that considers the total product experience.” That includes researching the product, obtaining the device, using it, and eventually getting rid of it. The study also says that in successful products, convenience is not a benefit, but “a measure of how easy your product makes it for people to get the benefits your product promises.”

They also cite the easy downloading of books without needing a computer as the reason that the Amazon Kindle was an unexpected success.  They call ebooks on Amazon “cheap”, which is funny, but the point remains.

So, if the convenience of the total product experience of the Kindle was what made it so successful, how much more successful could it have been if Amazon had removed the intentional inconveniences?

What if you could install additional software on it?  Software to read other formats, perhaps?  An open web browser?  What if you could plug in an SD card, like every other reader on the market?

Amazon couldn’t do these things without giving up a lot of their control.  If you could use an SD card, then maybe you could use an Eye-Fi card and not depend on Sprint’s network to provide the Whispernet.  If you could use a web browser, you wouldn’t need to pay 99 cents to access a blog.

And that’s not to say that both generations of the Kindle aren’t convenient.  Being able to get a new book wherever you are is tremendously convenient.  And Amazon’s marketing (not to mention Oprah’s) means that, while few have heard of many of the ebook readers on the market, most people are familiar with the Kindle.  For the non-technical user, perhaps this is enough.  Amazon’s sales support that theory.

Article:  How to predict gadget success | Business Tech – CNET News.

Something to sell, something to give away

I love Techdirt.  Many of the ideas I present here are based on (or, honestly, stolen from) things I read there.  If you don’t read Techdirt, you should.

Here’s a good article to start on.  It helps that it’s about both my favorite band and one of my favorite concepts.  Nine Inch Nails has made a lot of money recently since ditching the record label and experimenting with new ways to sell music.  Giving away MP3s and other digital content and selling collector’s editions, cds, dvds;  Recently they’ve made concert footage available for people to mix and edit and do whatever they want.

This concept of taking things that you can copy as many times as you want and using them to promote the things that can’t be easily copied, the things still worth paying for, is the future of most media.  TV, movies, books, music – new technology means that you can do so much more with your content, things that weren’t possible even a decade ago.  It just takes a little innovation and good ideas on how to make people want to give you their money.

Take the example of two of my favorite authors, Charles Stross and John Scalzi.  I became fans of both by reading novels they were giving away in electronic form for free.

I first read Stross’ Accelerando a few years ago.  It was, and still is, available as a free download.  Since then, I have had a beer with Charlie, and read most of his books.  I own probably half of them (including a paperback copy of Accelerando, though that’s because I inadvertently put it on my Amazon wish list, and someone bought it for me for Christmas).  I will continue to buy his books as they come out.

I first read Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars at about the same time.  It, too, remains available for free online.  I have not had any personal contact with him, but not because I couldn’t – his blog is widely read, and he really communicates with his commentors.  I haven’t spoken with him because I haven’t really had anything to say, though I read his blog regularly.  I own a few of his books, too.

Both of these authors gave things away for free, connected with fans, and made me want to buy their books.  Will this work all the time, for every author?  Well, maybe not in exactly the same way.  But the model has so much possibility.  Eventually, no one will pay to simply watch a movie or read a novel.  People will still pay to see a movie in the theater, or see a musician in concert.  But the content itself will be free.  Some people won’t be able to make any money any more, and that’s unfortunate.  But many will, and some will make much more than they ever thought possible.  In the end, society will be better off.

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