Monthly Archives: March 2011

  •    How The eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights Benefits Authors:
    Ebooks should transcend platforms. What you buy on the iBookstore or the Kindle should be readable on the Nook or Kobo and vice versa. Ebooks should be platform neutral and portable. As an author, in order to reach the widest audience possible, your books should be able to travel wherever your audience wants them to be. You’ve put in the hours and the hard work; why should something like software or technology get between your prose and the reader?
    Some context: Andrew Woodworth is a librarian. Last week, he posted the eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights. I don’t talk about it much, on Novelr, but there’s a struggle going on right now in the publishing industry with traditional publishers on one side and libraries on the other. The issue: the right for libraries to lend out eBooks. And the libraries are currently losing. #

Margaret Atwood On Publishing

Margaret Atwood delivered this funny, insightful keynote at the O’Reilly TOC conference that just wrapped up a few weeks ago. Normally I post links to videos like this, but Atwood’s delivery (and her humour) make this worth watching in its entirety.

Atwood offers no answers to the problems of publishing. But she does paint a clear picture of the tensions that many authors face in today’s publishing industry (traditionally published or otherwise). My favourite part is this bit (at 8:32) about a dead moose and a dead author:

… helpful industry hint: never eliminate your primary source. This is an example from biology. It is a dead moose. Every dead moose maintains the food chain for at least thirty other life-forms. I’ve drawn here only a few of them.

This is a dead author.

The author is a primary source. Everything else in the world of publishing depends on authors. They don’t have to be dead, but dead ones are particularly lucrative.

It gets better. Go watch it.

  •    Amanda Hocking on the publishing industry:
    Saying traditional publishing is dead right now is like declaring yourself the winner in the sixth inning of a baseball game when you have 2 points and the other team has 8 just because you scored all your points this inning, and they haven’t scored any since the first.
    Also, note how she says that ‘people can’t grasp how much work I do’ (and how much of it isn’t writing). For what it’s worth: I’ll say this – Amanda Hocking is nice. Follow her on Twitter if you haven’t already. #
  •    I quite like this indie-focused book blog: IndieReader. They accept book review requests from indie authors, by the way, so I recommend that you go check that out. #

Good Enough Is How Disruption Happens

I’m surprised by the number of people who – after getting used to the idea that Amanda Hocking is making a bucketload of money via the Kindle store – come around to complain that her writing is lousy. Or that she needs an editor. Or that she needs ‘more work’.

These people then extrapolate that complaint to the quality of indie books in general, and how the future of publishing is doomed if we – as publishers, or authors – cannot maintain proper quality control. It’s an old argument, and I’ve heard it countless times before.

Now, it may be true that Hocking is a so-so writer. I’m not going to go there – the writers who read this blog are likely to be better qualified to make that call. But even if we say that her quality of writing is average, we have to accept that that is exactly the point – Hocking’s work is good enough, and good enough is how disruption happens.

Record labels in the music industry weren’t displaced by better technology – they was displaced by lower quality, relatively low-res mp3s. As were the video-rental industry, and the newspaper industry. Youtube videos – while entertaining, cannot possibly compare to a properly produced movie. And yet millions of people tune in every day to short videos and low quality movie torrents uploaded to the Internet.

It’s tempting to see this and conclude that people don’t care about quality – or that they don’t mind stealing work for private consumption. But that isn’t necessarily true. People do care about quality. And, given the right context, people can and will pay for digital content.

All we’re seeing here is the net effect of new technology being used to give people something they want but couldn’t previously get. People live with low quality mp3s because we want a painless way to own individual songs. And they live with low-quality Youtube videos because they’re short, sweet, and painless to procure. (Indeed, the main value proposition of the Internet seems to be that it makes things painless, to the point where consumption becomes casual).

But there are two sides to that equation. Where one part is the Internet giving people things that they wanted but couldn’t previously get, the other part is that it’s new technology that we’re talking about. The fact that it’s new technology being used almost always means that the early adopters would be lower in quality when compared to the incumbents. It took television a couple of years before it became the polished industry that it is today; so it will be a number of years before digital-only record labels and newspapers and publishers reorient their operations to reflect the new dynamics of the web.

People are buying Amanda Hocking ebooks because they’re cheap, they’re easy, and they’re good enough to read. And that’s the metric that matters, really, because that’s how disruption works: it almost always begins with ‘good enough.

Post-Launch Pandamian

It’s been a week since we launched Pandamian, and I’ve got a few quick notes on how we’ve fared.

Pandamian Beta  The Easiest Way To Publish A Book Online 1298918832041

User Feedback

There’s this mantra in startup-land that applies to product launches: you know you’ve launched too late when you’re not embarrassed by your product.

By that metric, I suspect that we’ve taken far too long to launch. Our early users are rather happy with what we’ve built, and (surprising – to me, at least) most of them are understanding that we don’t yet have feature X or Y.

Miladysa's Tweet on Pandamian

And I’m not complaining about that. Most of them have made it clear that they’re expecting a host of new features, and every other day or so we get tweets or emails asking us about feature X, or bug Y, or how to do Z.

(I also suspect that the writers who are currently moving their work to Pandamian are doing it because we’re working to add ebook conversion. And maybe that’s a good reason to have your book on Pandamian. But at the same time I’m embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t ready for the launch. )

The Cathedral And The Bazaar Write Chapter 1298918875193The Cathedral And The Bazaar Home 1298918865970

What’s taken me most by surprise, however, are the number of requests for a directory of Pandamian books. We’d built Pandamian with the writer/publisher in mind, and so the idea of a browsing tool was a little … startling, to say the least.

I’m for building a Pandamian directory, but I also think we should delay implementing it immediately. After all, we’ve yet to complete:

  1. Adding multiple books per author
  2. Adding the ability to upload and use cover-art (which is really a nice way of saying: set up a method to handle static objects like images)
  3. Theming
  4. Feeds
  5. Complete ebook conversion

And several of these features are non-trivial to implement. (Also: remember that a directory is itself a non-trivial thing to build, if we’re to do it right). And so I think we should put up a crude, stop-gap solution to this, and come back to fix it up properly in the future. Probably better to focus on one thing at a time.

Press Coverage

We’ve not publicized Pandamian as much as we could, and that’s exactly the way I like it. Right now the really tricky thing is to build something people would use (or really: that writers would love to use), and we only need about a hundred users to source feedback from.

Which, by the way, we have.

I think it’s important to take the time to get the software right, before scaling it up for people. Quantity is easy to scale; happiness is not. And so it’s a better idea to maximize the latter at this stage, before thinking about sheer numbers.The Cathedral And The Bazaar Customize 1298918901280The Cathedral And The Bazaar Revise 1298918894599

Why We’re Doing This

I think it’s worth revisiting why we’re building Pandamian, just to put the hectic programming of the past week in perspective. I recently wrote about Amanda Hocking, this amazing 26 year old writer who’s found success on the Amazon Kindle store. What people tend to forget is that she spent a hellish amount of time researching ebooks before publishing to Amazon, that she did all the book-covers herself, and she took a significant amount of time to study J.A. Konrath’s publishing blog.

I’m encouraged by her story, but I also realize that for the majority of writers, there remains a rather formidable technical learning-curve to publish to the web. (I spoke about this challenge at the Internet Archive late last year). We’ve seen our fair share of writers struggling with blog engines, and web design, and site templates, here in the web fiction community, and it’s never nice to have to stop writing to deal with tech.

My contention, however, is that it’s necessary to make publishing easy and available to everyone, and it is the fastest, most efficient way to force publishers to change.

If we can make it possible for writers to publish without ever worrying about the underlying technology, and we can make it such that they really, truly own the distribution of their own books; then – I think – we would have accomplished something meaningful.