Friday, August 15, 2014

AiIP: Do the Evolution

A few months ago, a service called Booktrack launched. I saw it come across the ol' Twitter feed and a few places, but I paid it little mind. If you haven't seen it, the short version is that it adds music, ambient noise and sound effects to the text, so you can read along with music and mood. I dismissed it as a gimmick of sorts, but then I received an email from one of the guys over there, he had read my stuff and asked if I was interested in doing one of my stories on there. I wasn't really interested, until he followed up (points for persistence), and I checked it out and kinda sorta fell in love. The process was way more fun than it has any right to be, and I am really pleased with the result.

This got me thinking about the overall state of publishing - ebooks aren't a revolution anymore; they are the norm, or, at least, part of it. But all the retailers are still selling ebooks like they're physical books. Not that this is any great crime, but between the issues surrounding price fixing, publisher/retailer conflict, lack of any manner of transparency, and to say nothing of the indie, self- and author-publishers that complicate that whole model, there is less room for an antiquated model.

That dude on the right should be holding a book
In short, the medium has evolved, but the method for getting it in customers hands has not. But where can it improve? It's not like it's complicated - you pay for something, you get the thing. So here's my wishlist (that's two Pearl Jam references in one blog post), which I have neither the resources nor the ability to make happen. But hopefully someone can.

1) Ebook bundles. This strikes me as painfully obvious. After all, movies have been doing it for years, but books can't follow suit. Find a way for someone who buys a physical book to be able to download an ebook. Please. Make this happen.

2) Pay what it's worth. Let's call this the New Author Pricing Paradox. That is to say, you're a new author with a good book to sell. You can charge what most publishing houses charge for an ebook, somewhere in the neighborhood of $5-$10. But you're unknown, with no publishing house to back you, so no one is going to spend their hard-earned cash on you (did you know I have a book out? I would love your hard-earned $5). OR you can price it super cheap, $2.99 (why $2.99? That is the least you can charge for a book and still get 70% royalties on Amazon - under $2.99 and you get 30%), but then you're mired in with everyone else who has done the same thing, including your Aunt Mable, the guy down the street who published his 9-11 conspiracy theory as a novel, and at least one third grader (really). Good luck.

But what if it wasn't a set price? What if someone could pay what they thought it was worth? They can download the book for free and hey this is awesome, I'm gonna give this person $10. Or, this is terrible, no money for you. Wouldn't that be better?

It will never happen, but it would make a hell of a lot more sense.

3) Better Bestseller Lists. Let's run with the above idea, and suppose that app exists. Instead of simply number of copies sold, there would be two lists: most downloads, and most money paid. So maybe a ton of people love the book, but can't chip in a ton. That would be reflected on the downloads list. Or maybe a few people really love your book, and that will bring it to people's attention despite lower download numbers. In any case, I see a lot of 'Kindle Bestsellers', which means they made it to #1 in steampunk or something (this is not to take anything away from these authors; just pointing out that bestseller doesn't carry as much weight as it used to, and even those lists are far from perfect).

Those are three things I think would improve digital bookselling (along with my omnipresent wish for integrating with brick-and-mortar stores). What do you think? Please share any ideas you have in the comments. Or, if you happen to be a programmer, feel free to make these a reality.


Dean is the author of 3024AD and other stories, engineer, and geek about many things. He lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest. You can listen to him ramble on Twitter and muse on his blog.