Its a good question that requires a good answer. I have been kinda surprised by how the whole revolution in media happened, in many ways it was completely backwards. Books, something that should have been the first to go digital in many ways was the last. This isn’t completely true; although, it seems what has replaced today’s books are a barrage of short and sweet tutorials about various subjects. Many people would argue that commercial books have been online forever, though that is not completely true either, most are topical news articles or old pdf’s of outdated book content. Really though music was the first thing to go digital, next was video, and now we are seeing am emergence of ebooks (how backwards is that?).
Hardly ever do you see content that is completely end-to-end book-like content, and is something that would compete against packaged, and sold content. This makes reading and learning from the Internet a bit like learning from someone with sever A.D.D symptoms. Essentially rough, short, and tersely written information on how to get something done, hopping from one subject to the next, and never an overly intense discussion of the why and how. For the most part that’s the way it is today, if you want to learn how to bake cookies, you will get a recipe, but hardly do you ever find an entire synopsis on the history of baking cookies, the tips and tricks of baking, discussion of technical baking terms, and detailed content on how to get the best cookies, plus a cook book all rolled into one.
Why is this? Well first off I would say that the Internet has become very topical (which is a good thing), but with a overly topical system we lose some of the essence of the topic its self (the whys and hows, and feeling). Today’s bloggers and on-line media writers are not focusing on writing a ballade of a single subject, rather breaking subject matter down into news articles. Essentially leaving the learning curve high, and most topics only understandable to experienced users (an ivory tower of knowledge).
Most of today’s on-line writers simply don’t have time time or energy to invest in writing ballades (a book), they are to busy appeasing boss’s, or moving onto the next topic that will drive traffic (its not their job to write ballades anyway). Many of the writers that could invest the time and energy are not on-line writers at all, but rather offline writers. Which brings me back to the original question, why am I not making people pay for the books I am writing? Why are you doing it online, and free like this?
I have a solid belief that like music, and video books’ day or reckoning is coming and unlike music and video book content could be hit the hardest. We are starting to see soaring popularity of products such as the kindle, and other book readers that are being made available. Books are going to be dragged onto the on-line medium regardless if anyone likes it or not.
When that day comes, that same thing that happened to music and video will happen to books and many people know this already. So I am doing an experiment, and seeing what happens when I jump in with both feet and just let go of all control. Plus I am probably not the best writer out there anyway, and I could never get published but I will work hard and diligently to change that , and I fully expect my readers will make me a better author. So moving forward…
The issue is that book companies still want to sell content, and control the content in the form of drm ebooks, and that is good and all except that we all know that torrents of books are just as easy to set up as any other content. As a general rule of thumb if you can see it or hear it, then you can digitize and distribute it (with or without permission). We also know that there is (shock) already many many torrents and p2p networks that carry large amounts of books, and that is only going to get worse. Books, like most other forms of media can, and will be commodities, and I welcome it with an alternative for people to consider.
Just because it is free doesn’t mean that authors can’t make better, and more money then ever from their content. I am not preaching open source here. In some cases FOSS is blind faith – and I have FOSS projects. Books over all other forms of media, video, music, you name it have the most to gain from advertising. I am posting my work on-line today as proof, that if you decide to cast all traditional means of publishing aside you probably have a pretty good chance at this new on-line world.
So how can you make money by providing free books on-line? Well first off remember that since you no longer need to put your book on paper you really do not need a publisher any more. If you write your book on-line in real-time as I am doing, the community you build while writing can act as a massive fleet of editors correcting your mistakes at every turn with the click of an e-mail (and I need all the help I can get). Your book, since it is posted in plain text is readily search-able, index-able, tag-able, and consumable. People can page through your on-line book and actually use bookmarks for what they were intended to do, marking where they left off! Your readers will thank you.
I am planning on making money with my book content, when I start generating large amounts of traffic and book chapters become “beta” versions you will start to see me “lease out” advertising spots to chapters of the book. Essentially offering exclusive targeted advertising that a user will see as they read through the book. Many people might say, neh I would just rather buy the book then see advertising. Great! See the on-line format of the book is just the medium for developing the product, once there is a large demand for the content then it is a good enough to take offline as well generating an advertising free e-book.
I can then decide to choose a very low-cost bare bones publisher to publish out the book. Since you don’t need editors, or people to format the book anymore all you really need is a company that will take your content and put it on paper. A person could probably create a book, and sell it to your existing users, as well as new ones for a relatively nice premium, and still be cheaper then most other books.
Even though the book would be on paper, or an e-book I will always make sure to encourage your users to go check out the digital version of the book, to see the latest updates and information where they would once again be presented with advertising (thus even more revenue). This effectively gives file sharing services would be a positive thing, because users would just be enticed even more to visit the updated version. Online books are more accurate then ebooks or paper books because you can always change the content to be the most acurate and reflect the state of the industry.
Finally since we are making changes to the book, and the book is “evolving” you could put out new “editions” of the book as both paper, and e-book every couple of years (or even monthly). We can also distribute the content world wide very easily, making ideas global, as well as providing greater profits.
Lets talk a little about educational books, educational books are needed for people trying to learn a trade as well as school systems. If we were able to provide educational books for free, everyone would have an equal opportunity to become great at a skill. Many schools though have budgets for books, and since distributing a book is free, that means you can distribute the book for cheap, and charge the same for educational packages.
But what would a on-line book have to offer in educational packages? Plenty! First there is an opportunity to make the books more interactive. I am talking about quizzing software, lecture slide-shows, even interactive note taking for the students which an author can offer in an “educational package”. Also imagine providing a suite of interactive activities, and ‘labs’ which can provided throughout the book.
Secondly, a novel idea would be to offer a 1 on 1′s voice conference with a class of students and include it with the educational package. An educational package would contract an hour or two of the author time (included in the package) for an extensive premium. How cool would it be for students to talk to the author of the book that they are actually reading. I am not saying that the author would talk to all classrooms that bought your book, but one could provide graded educational packages where they might task out the lower paying 1 on 1′s with people the author works with.
Leaving the higher paying educational packages exclusively for the author. This is no different then a music group “going on tour” only you are doing it from your home office. The idea of a children’s author reading their book via video conference to a classroom of children in africa is a particular favorite of mine.
Finally, all these lectures to classrooms will probably make you a pretty popular author! So at the end of the day you might be asked to go speak at conferences, and land high profile jobs. All because you decided to publish your content for free on-line. If you manage to gain a large amount of readers, the income from a book you wrote could easily equal or even exceed that of a traditional book.
Plus there will get much more recognition for the work, and it will be available for free online for years and years to come. That’s years and years of income versus something that just fizzles out after a year or two. How cool is that? Anyway, these are some of the things I plan on doing with the books being written here, for anyone who chooses to read it. I am stepping forward and experimenting with a few new ideas, and seeing where it takes me.
Regardless of what happens, I hope you enjoy the series and I wish every technologist the best of luck with your professional career. Be bold, be creative, and always look ahead.
The Author: Matt Prokes