Rough Notes On Punking eBooks

The problem: There is no way for an individual independent writer to be published in eBook format for sale.

(Note: I do not count Amazon’s Kindle Store and its confiscatory ass-backwards money split; its proprietary eBook lock-in file format is also detrimental to the interests of all writers.)

1) WordPress-like easy blogging system with an eBook eCommerce component
– WordPress.COM does not have this
– WordPress.ORG has a plug in, but:
— not every writer wants to devote time to webmastery
— personally, I still recall what happened to Gear Diary — (I’m not the only one!)

2) There are no indie eBookstores
– indie: not owned by Amazon, Apple, Google, Sony, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Microsoft or other behemoth
– indie eBookstore would carry titles current behemoth eStores do not
— print indie bookstores carry titles not found at B&N/Borders
— comic book stores carry fanzines

3) Apple and Amazon cannot be entrusted with freedom of expression
– Sony probably can’t be entrusted either

4) Am not attracted to sites such as Lulu, Smashwords, et al
– perception of sludge pile (worse than slush pile)

5) FictionWise, others, won’t deal with single writer
– combination of writers banding under a shell company label?
— Chaplin, Pickford, Fairbanks, Griffith United Artists model

6) Universal eBook Catalog
– list every eBook available
– become the discovery source
– break the “Let’s look it up on Amazon” cycle
– must be an entity in itself to preserve freedom of expression
— I still think The Pirate Bay should do this

7) No ePub tools for writers
– Adobe InDesign expensive and complex
— complexity not needed for all-text
— writers don’t do design
– software must be blog-easy
— multiple eBook eejit-proof templates like Apple’s Pages

I no longer believe that eBooks will enter the mainstream via the mainstream.

I now believe in the analogy to punk music in yesterday’s post.

What needs to happen:

ONE eBook gains a Word of Mouth (WOM) reputation
(Note: there are over 16 million eBook devices now [iPhone/Touch])
– genuine word of mouth or PR-assisted?
— PR-assisted cannot move something that’s shit
— only genuine WOM matters
— WOM moved The Fountainhead in 1940s

Unknown contributing(?) factor: Blog Book Tours

An eBook with WOM cachet and must-read-ness that’s available only as an eBook (in a format that cannot be printed out) could help push the needle from print books to eBooks

WOM must be of such scale to achieve Internet escape velocity
– must enter mainstream culture, not be confined to Internet Culture

That eBook must not compromise by going into print

That eBook must be dedicated to the Cause of eBooks

Given possibility of piracy, eBook should not be seen as money-maker

Rough notes. But I think eBooks now have to grow from the bottom-up, not be dispensed top-down from the self-appointed Publishing Gods of New York City’s Mt. Olympus.

eBooks are the future and are too important to be left up to publishers.

We live the precedent: The Internet grows from the bottom-up.


15 Responses to Rough Notes On Punking eBooks

  1. @DonLinn says:

    You had me up to “eBook should not be seen as money-maker”

    This won’t happen without a commercial motivation.

  2. Mike Cane says:

    I’m being realistic. I’m talking huge scope here. Piracy is inevitable and I expect the frenzy to result in more theft than legit purchases. This would be a DRM-free eBook.

  3. Mark Coker says:

    Hi Mike,

    The answer to your “problem” is Smashwords. This is how an indie author publishes DRM-free and multi-format, and in minutes not years. We put the author in complete control over their book and give ’em 85% net, which is 2X Amazon Kindle.

    If we don’t operate an indie bookstore, I don’t know who does. Any indie author or indie publisher is welcome to put their books on Smashwords.

    I don’t get your pile comment. How can you criticize indie authors as denizens of the slush, yet in the first paragraph imply that indie authors deserve a way to publish in ebook form?

    Indie authors should be able to publish whatever they want, and it’s up to the readers to determine what’s worth reading.

    I love your idea of the universal ebook catalog. Someone will do that and make a ton of $$$.

  4. Mike Cane says:

    Mark knows I can’t get past the name “Smashwords,” so he has me at a disadvantage. That’s all I’ll say for now. It’s late and any sense I make at the keyboard right now is entirely accidental.

  5. David Nygren says:

    This is good. Rough notes are always good when coming up with something new.

    But perhaps Sm*shwords in conjunction with the universal ebook catalog would get us most of the way there?

    There will be plenty of sludge everywhere, no matter what happens, so whoever it is who does this successfully (like S****words) will inevitably have lots of sludge. We must accept that (and solve the “DJ problem”).

    Money? Oh, God…I can’t think about that right now. Tomorrow.

  6. Jess says:

    I would be all over a universal eBook catalog. ALL OVER IT. Just saying.

  7. Kirk says:

    I don’t get how “Given the possibility of piracy, eBook should not be seen as money-maker” and also “ebooks are the future” reconcile.

    So, the future is that there is no profit in publishing?

    In which case, why bother with ebooks? Why not just publish free on the web?

    btw, the web actually comes the closest to meeting your criteria of indie ebook store. No revolution is necessary. It’s here today AND it has fanzines.

    As for the punk thing. DIY = do it yourself. I don’t get the whole “authors can’t be bothered to be webmasters”. Punk would not have happened if the drummer had refused to move his own drum kit.

    As the old saying goes, “part of doing it is ‘doing it.'”

  8. rjnagle says:

    I will go one step further and say we need a way to dump posts from a CMS like WP into something that can become an ebook.

    I’m sorry, but I can’t take seriously anyone who doesn’t take smashwords/lulu seriously (in terms of quality). I haven’t checked smashwords in a while, but they used to have constraints on the format and design of their ebooks.

    This is a great time to be an author and publisher!

  9. MoJo says:

    Mark, I can see both yours and Mike’s point about “slush pile.” Being able to publish anything one wants is wonderful and really really super awesome good spectacular.


    How is the average person going to find it? Honestly, I have an issue with any kind of search feature on SmashWords AND Feedbooks AND Project Gutenberg. The only way to really find something you’ll like is to know the title. I don’t think social tagging is going to cut the mustard. So in that way, it does resemble a slush pile because you have to scroll through titles that are arranged by date posted. I posted mine a long time ago so you have to scroll a looooooooooooong way to get to mine and either A) you’re going to give up before you get there or B) you’ve found 16 other things you like and you think you’ve had enough.

    But maybe I’m just impatient. I don’t stick around long on anybody else’s bookstore sites, either.

  10. Henry says:

    You had me until: can’t release a print edition. I’m going to be releasing my book Cory Doctorow style – free ebook, pay for print. I know you’ve expressed your total distaste for print books, but if you’re not doing a large print run, I don’t see the problem. People prefer reading print books, and they’re entitled to, especially considering the current quality of ereaders. I don’t think one has to replace the other.

  11. MoJo says:

    Kirk said: As for the punk thing. DIY = do it yourself. I don’t get the whole “authors can’t be bothered to be webmasters”.Not only DIY, but DIY WELL.

    Which is why I’m beating my head on the epub wall. If I have to DIY (which I do), then I need decent tools to get the job done well.

  12. Mike Cane says:

    >>>But perhaps Sm*shwords in conjunction with the universal ebook catalog would get us most of the way there?

    I'll have to wade into Smashwords soon. I thought about it last night — and isn't "Smashwords" a punk name in itself?

    >>>I don't get how "Given the possibility of piracy, eBook should not be seen as money-maker" and also "ebooks are the future" reconcile.

    >>>So, the future is that there is no profit in publishing?

    I know the notes are hard to follow as they're all disorganized scribbles, but that bit I meant specify for whatever ONE eBook there is that escapes from the Internet and engages the larger culture, *forcing* people to read an eBook.

    >>>As for the punk thing. DIY = do it yourself. I don't get the whole "authors can't be bothered to be webmasters". Punk would not have happened if the drummer had refused to move his own drum kit.

    Well look, authors aren't printers, binders, or shippers, either. They're also not bookstores. I know in the future they'll need additional skills — just as typewriting became word processing — but I don't know how many want to do their own websites, hence my first call for a WordPress-like system. I'm also showing a prejudice there too in that I personally don't want to do a install and maintain.

    >>>I will go one step further and say we need a way to dump posts from a CMS like WP into something that can become an ebook.

    WordPress can export what it says is an XML file. There are current services on the Net that will turn a blog into a book. The one I tried, however, told me that WP doesn't do fully-compliant XML and hence the file is rejected.

    >>>How is the average person going to find it?

    This is the Invisible Shelf problem I brought up earlier:
    The Invisible Worm>>>Honestly, I have an issue with any kind of search feature on SmashWords AND Feedbooks AND Project Gutenberg.

    Search has to be THE premiere feature of sites. Gutenberg drives me mad. Most non-Google search drives me mad. (Don't say, "Then use Google," FFS; they must all work on their Search!) (Note that most of the time I'm posting links to a WordPress post even though there might be the same one on my Blogger backup or even here — that's because I can't make search *work* on Blogger!)

    >>>You had me until: can't release a print edition.

    Again, I know the notes are difficult to follow, but I meant the ONE eBook that forces people to read an eBook. My own preference is to never cooperate with the existing system and to never release my work on paper.
    I Am An eBook Militant

  13. Joshua Tallent says:


    I think you should look at Books on Board. They are the largest independent eBook retailer, and have a store in Stanza that is better than Fictionwise’s. They offer publishing options to publishers as well as to individual authors, and sell eBooks without DRM. They still take pay a low royalty unless you take on more of the work and sign up as a publisher, but that’s not abnormal, just annoying. I would point out that I think it is also necessary for a functioning business model.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your idea for a Universal eBook Catalog. I’m game for making it, too, given the time (which seems to be in short supply these days!)

    – Joshua Tallent

  14. MoJo says:

    They offer publishing options to publishers as well as to individual authors,They do? I have seen no indication of that on their website.

  15. Mark Coker says:

    @mojo I think we're all impatient. Something else is always a click away. The Internet breeds ADD.

    re: slush pile. The Internet is one giant slush pile. If we think about it, most of the 200,000 books at Barnes&Noble are a form of slush. Most are invisible unless A: you like walking around with your head cocked sideways to read spines or B: you know the author and genre you're looking for.

    Re: search, I think search works pretty well. Speaking for Smashwords, you can enter the search funnel at the home page, search on fiction, then drill down to erotica (or whatever), then sort by newest/bestseller/highest rated, or you can search off of keywords, authornames, titles or author tags from the search box. I'm not holding us out as the best example, though, because we still have tons of room for improvement (I've been spec'ing out an updated home page today, btw), and our performance has been slow lately (working on that too).

    The other part of your question… how is the average person going to find something… First, there is no average. Our customers find their titles here primarily via direct hyperlinks in the promotional efforts of our authors (the author may, for example, point their customers to us rather than Amazon since our royalties are 2X higher), or they find our authors via keyword searches (often not even by author name or title) on Google, or they find stuff by surfing the site and using features like "people who bought/viewed this also bought/viewed these," or "also by this author/publisher" or via searches. I think the point is, no one search method suits all.

    @rjnagle – It was actually some smart cookie we both know with initials quite similar to your own who first suggested we create the Smashwords Style Guide. One of the best pieces of beta tester feedback ever. It's time for that person to come visit again and publish with us! :)

    @Mike – yes, Smashwords has multiple layers of meaning, and one of those layers is the angsty layer, best appreciated while listening to punk, grunge or metal and thinking about how you don't like paper books. But as we've learned, although most people seem to enjoy the name, our favorite ebook militant must have viewed it through a faulty Rorschach lens. Time for new lens.

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