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    © 2005 by Naba Barkakati


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April 17, 2005


Crawford Kilian

Hi, Naba--

I have a comparable problem with my book Writing for the Web, which is now almost five years old and seriously out of date--but my publisher isn't interested in a third edition. I guess my blog is a kind of Web-based update of the book, but lacking the kind of organization that a print document offers.

Many academic publishers now provide websites for their textbooks, and they seem to operate much as you describe. Might be worth exploring to gain information before you pitch your editors on the idea.

Brad Hill

Yes, but IMO your ideas of "protecting the content" would put your site in a swamp. Registration, and then periodic re-regristration that forces users to keep a book next to the computer? Please. Let's not deliberately piss off our best customers, lest we fall into the deep hole occupied by the music industry. Making money when information has been devalued is a thorny problem, but overvaluing our information doesn't solve it.

When I operated the companion site to my "Digital Songstream" book (the site no longer exists), I welcomed all visitors, and attempted to create a tone in which not having the book made a visitor feel a little left out. I referred to the book's persistently valuable information all the time, without explaining it. The site had inherent value, and the book became the added value--the reverse of what you're suggesting. I have no idea how well this worked to drive book sales, though I know it worked to some extent. Certainly, the book drove traffic to the site, and the site's growing reputation attracted more traffic, all of which was exposed to my cross-promotions of other books, etc..

Perhaps the answer is to regard hybrid spin-offs as the author's responsibility. Why are you waiting for your publishers? Your basic idea is hardly new, and I have found publisher thinking about extending a book's brand online to be utterly lacking in initiative. It is difficult to head in bold new directions from within a company. Since authors are more nimble than publishers, shouldn't it primarily be about extending the *author* brand online? This is really what the publisher wants, anyway: an author who is active in the field, keeping his/her name in view, extending into other media, all while promoting the book. The author takes all the risk, but how risky is it? Creating online content of some value and attractiveness is joyfully easy. Varied benefits accrue to the author by doing so--more than can be traced directly to equity in a single book.

So perhaps the answer is to re-imagine the partnership between author and publisher. We are not married, and need not do everything together. Creating the online bundle that keeps the book's brand current is up to the author. And for goodness sake, forget about those registration shenanigans.

Naba Barkakati

Crawford, I have been subscribing to your Writing Fiction blog - - hadn't realized you had the Writing for the Web one as well :-) From what Brad writes, I wonder if you can simply sell an updated PDF version of your book directly from your blog... it'd be great if you can accept Paypal payment, but I am not sure how all that works... that's why I was still thinking about all this in the context of having a publisher help me out.

Brad, I admit it's lame to try to force the reader to register (and recheck periodically) before providing access to the online information. I think your idea of using the online content to generate sales for the print book would be a better model. Now that I have taken on a blog, it's probably the next step to setting up a Web site where I offer online updates to anything that's outdated in the book. The site's got to have offer an RSS feed though, that's a must nowadays :-)

Brad Hill

Online book updates are great. Considering how quickly technical stuff changes, you'd think it would be almost mandatory for a book to have a companion Website.

I've never sold an electronic file, but PayPal looks doable. I've peered into other systems, too. In fact, my Web host offers merchant accounts. The real problem, in many cases, is getting the rights. Crawford's book might be out of date, but that doesn't mean it's out of print, and some publishers keep books in print long after they've stopped selling to avoid remitting reserves on returns that might be due. In other cases, all it takes is a letter requesting reversion of rights. If Crawford's publisher doesn't want to see him gain control of a title he thinks has value, maybe they'll get interested in that third edition. [smile]

Crawford Kilian

Brad's right--Writing for the Web is still in print, and still earning me a few hundred bucks per year. The publisher would certainly grant me my rights back if it was going out of print, but I don't think they'd be interested in a third edition...the book was part of a series for writers in different genres, and the series itself didn't do all that well. (I also wrote a book for them on writing SF and fantasy.)

Yes, one could in theory sell a PDF from one's own site, and arrange some means of selling the password that would open up the customer's copy. But that's an area I know nothing about.

Naba Barkakati

You're right, I had not thought of the rights issue.

Crawford, - - As for PDF books, I found this one example where a publisher is selling eBooks in the form of PDF files without any password and it's apparently working for him. I mentioned it in my latest post. If it works, that seems very appealing. An article called it the "extreme publishing" model (like extreme programming).

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