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« Is This A Future For Audiobooks? | Main | Scholar Experiments With New Media Models »

September 14, 2011

What if You Deliberately Used BitTorrent To Distribute Your Book?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

That's the question being asked by new author Megan Lisa Jones. As we've discussed many times, one of the biggest problems facing new authors is getting noticed. Despite the decline of the book publishing industry thousands of new novels are published each year by established authors. First novels may receive some extra promotion and attention if the publishing house can spare it, or thinks they have a potential mega-hit on their hands, but the vast majority of first novels go by with little or no notice, piled in a virtual corner few people will take the time to browse.

Over in that other corner reside providers like Clearbits (nee LegalTorrents). These outfits are the digital equivalents of vanity presses - you pay them to publish your content not on dead trees but onto the torrent streams. So if you pluck something that might go unnoticed from the traditional publisher corner, and move it over to the self-publishing digital corner, wrap it in a Creative Commons license, and set it free in the ether, what might happen? In the case of Ms. Jones' book, it looks like something over half a million downloads.

Half a million potential readers worldwide is certainly a lot more notice than you'd get from pretty much any traditional publishing arrangement. For a new author trying to build name recognition and planning to turn a first novel into a trilogy and possibly other publications, that's good. For people like me who want to see new business models put to the test, this is very interesting.

Sadly, what's missing from the WSJ blog entry is any of the financials. What did it cost Ms. Jones to do her deal with ClearBits? How does that compare to the costs of a traditional vanity press? Has any income been received directly, or is it all in the form of indirect benefits - certainly you don't find any other new authors in the Wall Street Journal's "Small Business, Big Innovation" competition so you can point out a significant measure of success there. But I think it's too simplistic to say "a book is a business;" I still want to follow the money.

(hat-tip to Copyfight reader Jayel Aheram for the pointer.)

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use


1. Megan Lisa Jones on September 14, 2011 9:27 AM writes...

Thanks for posting! As the author discussed above I can answer a few of your questions.

The promotion with BitTorrent/Clearbits didn't cost me anything and BitTorrent supported the release as part of its new artist program.

Captive was the first book so a bit of a trial case. New artists thus supported had included bands, film makers and a web series (now viewer supported financially). While in the long term making money from future books is a priority on this release I (can't comment for my partners) wanted it to be a success and to further understand whether this means of distribution works (and how).

I come from a technology related background, was concerned as a new author about the effectiveness of traditional means to build a reader base and wanted to be pro-active in trying new business models. What did I really have to lose?

The next book in the trilogy is almost 2/3 done so soon I'll need to decide how to distribute it. This promotion was a success in that it reached many people quickly and I've gotten great reader feedback. Monetization options can very easily be built into future like promotions but now I, and other authors, have a model to better understand how to reach an audience this way.

It worked! Or at least it achieved many of my objectives. And, by the way, the book is available in traditional outlets and does come in a paper those assets already existed. Had they not, I would have had to pay for formatting, a cover design, etc.

In the future, I'll be experimenting with the next two books of the trilogy and also hopefully with educational content.

The traditional media boundaries no longer exist! I'm happy to answer any further questions and hope I addressed the ones you articulate above.

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2. DrWex on September 16, 2011 10:11 AM writes...

@Megan: thanks for stopping by and giving some more insight. It's a shame the WSJ blog entry didn't include more of the interesting stuff.

Having spent a lot of time with more traditional authors I would say that their biggest fear (and what you might have stood to lose) would be to undercut or eliminate sales of your traditionally produced book with the e-product. I hear this quite often. Secondly, I find that many of the new authors I speak with are hesitant to try new models because they fear that getting involved with other forms of distribution will be seen as competition by established publishing houses. Some new authors fear becoming "tainted goods" and thus not being able to get a contract with a traditional publisher.

Good luck with your next book and if you'd like to stop by and talk about it via comment or guest-post I'd be open to that.

Permalink to Comment

3. Megan Lisa Jones on September 16, 2011 11:49 AM writes...

The concerns you express are valid! Absolutely. I worry about those risks also.
I was lucky to partner directly with BitTorrent/Clearbits so had their support getting the word out which impacted my decision.
And I come from a technology investment banking background so have the advantage of input and suggestions from some people that are innovating...and an acceptance of the risks involved.
Now I have even more questions regarding how to release the next book (and would love to write a guest post on it...once I finish the book and figure it out!).
I do believe that long term writing success depends more on how good my successive books are than on the ultimate distribution model. So I feel the most pressure on the writing angle.
Thanks again!

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