Word count limits don’t have to happen

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while.

I would say that the absolute upper limit of OK is 100,000 for a debut novel, but you’ll find some people turned off to it if it’s anything above 80,000.

I’m not making these numbers up from my experience–I’ve read identical stats on a lot of agent blogs. It’s pretty much an industry standard.

There is effectively a hard cap on the number of words you can have in your debut novel.  More words equals more expensive to print, and a new author is too risky.

That sucks.

Let’s assume that we’re talking about a book that 1) would have a reasonable audience if it were published, and 2) would be significantly harmed by chopping words off until it got under the cap.  That is, this cap is the only thing keeping it from being published.  So how do we fix this?  How do we get these books out where the author can make some money, and people can experience a book from a new author?

Well, the simple answer is to remove the risk.

Luckily, digital distribution and print-on-demand makes it much easier to do just that.  The up front costs are much lower, which allows the non-traditional publisher to take risks that a traditional publisher couldn’t dream of.  There are no expensive print runs, or extra books to be pulped.

If you’re interested, let us know.  We’re still on track for a November launch of ManfredMacx.com, and we’d love to talk to interested authors.

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.

Something better this way comes

You probably think this blog is abandoned.  It is not, really, though it is on extended hiatus.

When it returns, which I hope will be early fall, 2009, it will be more than a blog.  It will address some of the ways in which the publishing industry is horribly broken.  I will explain what’s been keeping me busy since I last posted, and why it’s more important to me than keeping up with the blogging.

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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The demise of the newspaper will make us better off

Much has been made of the impending demise of the newspaper, as the Old Media (With a few exceptions) has steadfastly refused to embrace the new opportunities of digital delivery of content.  Many seem to think that, without newspapers, we will have no accountability, no one to peel back the layers and expose the wrongdoing in the world and in our government.

Meanwhile, Comedy Central and The Daily Show are making a pretty strong case that we may actually have more accountability.

Stewart’s point was that Wall Street got fat off of all our pension plans, 401K’s and long-term investments, while the “Fast Money” crowd cashed in our long-term investments — and CNBC was complicit in the entire gambit…

Click through below and watch the video, which I believe includes unaired content, and watch Stewart skewer Jim Cramer over CNBC’s role in our financial mess.

Far from needing newspapers to keep everyone honest, perhaps the time has arrived when newspapers are actually holding us back.  If they go away, we won’t see an end to journalism.  In fact, with greater freedom, unshackled from the old ideas of what journalism is, we may see a renaissance.  In some ways, with anyone who cares to observe and share the world, we already have.  People can complain about the quality of much of this sharing all they want, but the fact that much of it is well-produced, well-thought-out, and spot-on is inescapable.

The world does not need newspapers.  It simply needs good journalism.  And that shows no signs of going away.

via Jon Stewart slaughters crazy finance guy Jim Cramer — video – Boing Boing.

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It’s too bad Amazon didn’t ask for advice

Many people are calling the Amazon Kindle the “iPod of books”.  It’s really unfortunate that, while it had a chance to change the market the same way the iPod did, Amazon’s shortsighted focus on locking down their content and protecting sales of paper books has made the Kindle an interesting but ultimately flawed device.

It’s pretty simple: many book publishers look at this new medium and ask, “how can I use it to augment my current business model.” I’d like Amazon to challenge that thinking and say to the world, “how can you use this platform to create a new business model?”

There were really two ways to look at the release of the Kindle.  On one hand, you could look at it as an extension of the current market, something to fit nicely into the well-defined parameters of the publishing world.  Or, you could look at it as something entirely new, something unrestricted by past practices and old ways of thinking.

Clearly, Amazon chose the former.  There are advances in the way you can buy and read books.  The always-on internet connection is a great idea.  But there are no giant leaps.  It’s more business-as-usual in a slightly new way.

Article:  Seth’s Blog: Reinventing the Kindle (part II).

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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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Bookworm – A platform for open ebooks

A friend pointed me to a new service to store all the ebooks you have in epub format so you can read them wherever you are – at your computer, on your web-enabled mobile phone, or on an ebook reader that supports the format.

I just signed up.  I downloaded Ayn Rand’s Anthem and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations from Feedbooks and added them to my new Bookworm account.  Before you ask:  Yes, I would love to sit in a room with Rand, Smith, and Jeff Bezos and discuss the state of the electronic publishing market.

It is unfortunate that I have no mobile device capable of trying this out, but it’s not entirely unpleasant to read on my laptop.  Bookworm remembers my place, as promised.

More exciting than the service is the attitude.  From their about page:

Will other book formats be supported, such as PDF or mobi? What about DRM ebooks?

Bookworm is meant to push adoption of the open ePub format and there are no plans to support closed formats like mobi or those with limited flexibility like PDF.

DRM (digital rights management) has been shown to be detrimental to technology adoption, does not significantly prevent piracy, and provides a terrible user experience. Bookworm will never support DRM’ed ebooks that require special software to unlock. Instead we encourage publishers to explore forms of “soft” DRM (such as watermarking digital books with the name of the purchaser).

“Soft” DRM is silly – the idea is that if you stick the person’s name on the digital file, they won’t share it with others.  It is an improvement over typical DRM, but still decreases the value of the book while offering nothing to the customer in return.

However, open source publishing software, using only open formats, can only be good for consumers.  Openness leads to innovation because one group can build on the work of another.  And sooner or later, some of those groups will figure things out, and you’ll never again have to pay $9.99 for an infinitely copyable ebook.

Check them out – they’re getting a lot of things right, and the backing of a big company like O’Reilly will help show other publishers what’s possible.

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