Two Experiments in E-book Lending

One of the objections people have to e-readers like the Kindle is the restrictions the e-book format places on lending and re-selling books. While many authors and publishers might be just as happy if the used book market disappeared—particularly when they see the free review copies they sent out show up in the Amazon Marketplace—this is a legitimate objection. Digital rights management should not be so restrictive that owning a digital product is less convenient than owning a physical product. And I, for one, have discovered many favorite authors, whose books I now faithfully buy, at the public library.

So before e-readers can enjoy a majority market share, the manufacturers and the publishers have to solve the e-book lending problem.

eBookFling splash screen

Back in January, I received a pitch from Anna de Souza about eBookFling, a service that allows owners of Kindle and Nook books to swap them. eBookFling acts as a clearinghouse for the “lend to a friend” function built in to the devices. It’s a crowdsourced e-book library. The press release described it like this:

Business Model in Brief:

  1. Using a credit system as currency, the community provides a circle of eBook lending.
  2. Lenders earn 1 credit for every 5 books they list as available for lend and 1 credit earned for each successfully lent book. Borrowers create a queue of books they’d like to borrow.
  3. Lenders will be emailed or sent a text message when a Borrower selects their book and upon acceptance, they will have a set time to complete the transaction through or with eBookFling verifying the transaction and alerting the requester that their book is ready to download. The Borrower will then have one point deducted from their account which is given to the Lender to spend on a rental for him/herself.
  4. The borrower may read the book for 14 days on the device they’ve downloaded to (Kindle, Nook, Nook and Kindle apps on smart phones or apps on PC and MACs) upon which the book disappears from the borrower and is “returned” to the Lender’s device/phone/computer.

Even more interesting were the proposed talking points. Here’s the best one:


The initial reaction may be a negative. Publishers and authors will claim the lending feature is being abused and causing cannibalization of sales. Authors are already bending over backwards by giving away many of their backlist (older) books free in the Kindle & Nook stores as promotion for the author’s new release. From their perspective, now they’ll have to worry about making only half the sales on the new books too!? Plus, the 14-day lending period may be more than enough time to finish a short novelette, copy the recipes in a cookbook, or read that important chapter in a tech manual or how-to book; never needing to purchase.

It will be interesting to see whether there is, in fact, a negative reaction from publishers. We’ve already heard about HarperCollins’ daft attempt to restrict the number of times libraries can lend out e-books before they have to buy replacements. (Because the hardcover equivalent would wear out, you see. No, I am not kidding.)

But it’s ridiculous for publishers to gibber about “lost sales” from library users. The type of library user who would read the book once, return it, and have no further use for it, would never buy the book in any format. Some of us simply read too fast and too much to make it practical for us to buy all the casual fiction that passes our eyeballs.

But that’s also the kind of reader who may discover a new favorite author at the library and then buy a whole series of books—particularly on an e-reader, where they won’t take up physical space. So an attempt to interfere with eBookFling on the part of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any of the publishers would be decidedly short-sighted. (I know, I know—it would not be the first time.)

Open Library screnshot

Apparently the Open Library initiative from has also been around for a few months, but I just happened across the announcement today while looking up the link to their audio hosting service.

Internet Archive and Library Partners Develop Joint Collection of 80,000+ eBooks to Extend Traditional In-Library Lending Model

San Francisco, CA – Today, a group of libraries led by the Internet Archive announced a new, cooperative 80,000+ eBook lending collection of mostly 20th century books on, a site where it’s already possible to read over 1 million eBooks without restriction. During a library visit, patrons with an account can borrow any of these lendable eBooks using laptops, reading devices or library computers. This new twist on the traditional lending model could increase eBook use and revenue for publishers.


How it Works

Any account holder can borrow up to 5 eBooks at a time, for up to 2 weeks. Books can only be borrowed by one person at a time. People can choose to borrow either an in-browser version (viewed using the Internet Archive’s BookReader web application), or a PDF or ePub version, managed by the free Adobe Digital Editions software. This new technology follows the lead of the Google eBookstore, which sells books from many publishers to be read using Google’s books-in-browsers technology. Readers can use laptops, library computers and tablet devices including the iPad.

What Participating Libraries Are Saying

The reasons for joining the initiative vary from library to library. Judy Russell, Dean of University Libraries at the University of Florida, said, “We have hundreds of books that are too brittle to circulate. This digitize-and-lend system allows us to provide access to these older books without endangering the physical copy.”

Digital lending also offers wider access to one-of-a-kind or rare books on specific topics such as family histories – popular with genealogists. This pooled collection will enable libraries like the Boston Public Library and the Allen County Public Library in Indiana to share their materials with genealogists around the state, the country and the world.


Libraries interested in partnering in this program should contact: [email protected].

The announcement mentions two publishers enthusiastically participating in this program, Cursor and OR Books. I confess to not having heard of either of them, but want to applaud them both. (Cursor turns out to be a fairly new venture by Richard Nash, with a first imprint called Red Lemonade and a forthcoming “social publishing” platform; OR looks cut from the same cloth, judging by its “about us” page.) Clearly both houses see the advantages of reaching new audiences through libraries.

And the libraries themselves see a way to give new life to books that had become too fragile to loan—and which are probably out of print, so buying a new copy for circulation is no longer a possibility. Yet more books that the publishers would never be able to sell, unless they now take the digital versions and make them available by POD—in which case, the library initiative may turn into a source of new revenue.

It’s time to quit treating libraries and their patrons like freeloaders. Libraries are some of the best advocates authors and publishers could possibly have—especially as bookstores disappear.

Infographic on the History of Printing

The large contraption in the middle is a linotype composing machine from 1886. Wikipedia has a fascinating description of how it works.

The reference to a filmless system in the 1990s shows a Mac PowerBook that looks remarkably like Prometheus, my old 145B from my graduate school years. I still remember people talking about “camera-ready copy” in those days, though.

Margaret Atwood on the State of Publishing

Brilliant, funny, insightful treatment of what changing publishing technologies mean to authors. My favorite quote so far: “Every tool has three sides: the sharp side, the dull side, and the stupid side—the side that has consequences you didn’t intend.” The illustrations are hilarious.

From the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference 2011.

Do Self-Publishing and eBooks Demonstrate Viability?

Yesterday morning Donna Papacosta interviewed me about ghostwriting for her Trafcom News Podcast. (I’ll post a link directly to the show when it goes up.) Before we recorded, she asked her Twitter followers whether they had any questions for me. This question came in from MJ McConnell just after we finished recording:

Here is my question for Sallie: does she recommend that a first-time author self-publish or produce an eBook to establish themselves as viable (assuming the expertise comes from field work/client case studies)?

It depends.

Okay, yes, that is the standard consultant’s cop-out answer. But it’s true.

If you produce a sloppy, unprofessional eBook and it doesn’t sell—or you can’t even give it away to large numbers of people—that’s going to demonstrate the opposite of viability to publishers you might approach with your next project. The same goes double for a self-published print book. (You can get away with fairly minimal formatting and design if you produce a Kindle version of a text-only eBook, though the book still needs to have good structure, flow, audience-appropriate material, an engaging style, and of course be grammatically correct with correct spelling and punctuation.)

What’s going to establish your viability as an author is selling books. That means having the things that publishers look for in their authors: both a willingness to market and an existing audience to market to. Do you have a mailing list (online or off)? How about blog subscribers? Podcast listeners? Twitter followers? Facebook fans? LinkedIn connections? Do you do regular speaking? What about corporate clients who could buy the book in bulk? If you don’t have any of these things, then just self-publishing a book, even a quality book that you’ve taken time over and hired professionals to help you with, won’t automatically generate readers and buyers.

Producing an eBook rather than a paper book (sometimes known as a pBook or even a “tree book”) may give you an edge in sales, because you can set a low price point and encourage impulse buyers. Your royalty may still be equal or greater to what you get on the print book because of lower production costs. (Note that there are still production costs for eBooks, though it’s comparatively easy to make a readable EPUB or Kindle version of a book that’s just text, and much harder to do illustrations, diagrams, equations, etc.) Thriller writer J.A. Konrath is an expert at this, but he had built up a substantial fan base before he made his big push into low-priced Kindle books.

So first, you need a platform—that existing fan base you can market to. Once you have that, you need to decide what your goal is and whether you’re in a position to hire the editor, book designer, cover artist, proofreader, and other staff to create a professional book, then arrange for your printing and distribution, and then fire up your marketing machine. (And you do need a good cover for an eBook, even if you don’t always need quite as much interior design work.) If you aren’t, then you’re going to be better off crafting a good book proposal and approaching agents and publishers.

Selling will still be your job, but at least with a publisher the production end will get taken care of.

Call the Weather! See If Hell Has Frozen Over— Endorses POD


If you ever listened to the WBJB Radio series of podcasts conducted by Ron Pramschufer, founder of, you know how he feels about Print on Demand. If you haven’t heard his interviews with representatives from Xlibris, iUniverse, AuthorHouse et al., I’ll sum it up for you: he thinks most POD houses are little more than vanity presses out to beggar unsuspecting authors, and even at best the POD printing process produces an inferior product.

So you can imagine my surprise—and that, I suspect, of most other readers of the Publishing Basics newsletter—when I got an e-mail message from Ron with the subject header “New!!! Direct to POD from”

What accounts for this change of heart?

To quote Ron,

I’m a bit of a hard headed German so I have resisted altering my approach to self-publishing because I know it works. But I’m finally starting to realize that “me” knowing it works, and “you” going to a pay-to-be-published publisher defeats the whole purpose.

(Anyone who can give me a semantically valid reason for putting “me” and “you” in quotation marks in that sentence gets extra pedant points.)

Ron goes on to describe the Direct to POD program this way:

Direct to POD is a program developed by for individual authors who prefer to choose a guided Publishing “Package” to the traditional a-la-carte method of Unlike the “Pay-to-be-Published” publishers, like Author House and iUniverse, we do not have inflated a-la-carte prices just so we can make it look like we’re giving you a big discount if you buy one of our packages. If you don’t mind the extra work, our a-la-carte self-guided services will always be the most economical way to self-publish your book. Whether you chose the guided or self-directed approach, YOU will:

  • Always be the publisher
  • Always own the ISBN to your title
  • Always own your printing files after your initial printing
  • Always earn ALL the publisher profit

The Direct to POD approach concentrates on helping the author get to the point that printed copies can be ordered. The old saying printers use: “The first book costs a lot but they get pretty cheap after that.” The packages offered are all based on the cost of the first book. Once the author/publisher has received that first copy, they will be free to order 100, 1000 or 1,000,000. Remember…as with all programs… you’re the boss.

The $995 package includes:

  • Dedicated book coach to see you through the process
  • ISBN
  • Layout of text and cover (5X8 or 6X9 fiction)
  • 1 Paperback copy
  • EBook EPub and Mobi Kindle file
  • Inclusion in the Thor POD distribution program
  • 5% discount on first primary print run as well as any additional upgrades or services.

The $1495 package includes

  • Dedicated book coach to see you through the process
  • ISBN
  • Layout of text and cover for paperback and hardcover book
  • 1 Paperback copy
  • 1 Hardcover copy
  • EBook EPub and Mobi Kindle file
  • Inclusion in Thor POD distribution program
  • 5% discount on first primary print run as well as any additional upgrades or services.

By “book coach” I presume he means “publishing coach,” someone familiar with the various steps involved in publishing a book, rather than a writing coach.

But the thing is, if is providing all these services, where exactly is the motivation—for them—in tying it to POD? Because they could just as easily create a similar package for offset printing, with a primary print run of as few as 100 copies for one-color books and 25 copies of full-color books. (And, uh, isn’t “first primary print run” redundant?) With the lower per-book price of offset, the customer would get a comparable deal, even if storage and fulfillment services might add a bit to the package cost.

After all, if the main reason people are paying for POD services (some of which are a rip-off) is because they’re easier than managing the different aspects of publishing oneself, then making offset book printing easy would seem to be the obvious counter tactic. If you can provide an attractive package, you should be able to compete with the AuthorHouses of the world.

Yet, despite the still-visible differences between digital and offset printing (a narrowing gap, less perceptible in text than in, say, business cards), it wasn’t the technology of Print on Demand that really had Pramschufer up in arms. It was the predatory pricing practices of certain companies that used that technology and produce poor-quality, unsalable books for unjustifiable sums of money. Those are certainly practices worth condemning.

The Direct to POD program seems like decent value, but I’m not sure it’s unique  enough to distinguish itself from its increasingly numerous competitors. Since the days of that podcast series, we’ve seen the advent of, Amazon’s CreateSpace, and, in the e-book space, SmashWords, Scrib’d, and Amazon’s Digital Text Platform. And even though I believe (knowing what the cost of a book designer is, and of an ISBN, and so forth) that there are no outrageous markups in these packages, the creation of Direct to POD still looks more like a belated attempt to cash in on a trend than an attempt to protect authors from vanity presses in disguise.

Why We Won’t See a Publishers’ Bookstore App for the iPad

Len Edgerly interviewed Seth Godin on February 24th for The Reading Edge podcast. (It took me forever to get that pun, for some reason). Though Godin was there ostensibly to talk about his latest book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (Amazon affiliate link), the podcast bills itself as “Conversations about the eBook Revolution,” and this proved to be one, taking place as it did right after the great Macmillan-Amazon pricing dispute. (In case you missed that, Macmillan wanted to sell its new Kindle books for $14.99 instead of $9.99. Amazon took all the “buy” buttons off Macmillan’s books in the Kindle store, but then caved in, largely because of Apple’s intention to sell books in its iBook store for the iPad at $14.99.)

Starting about 7 minutes into the episode, Godin explains that instead of creating books for their readers, publishers have gone looking for readers for their books. Publishers are obsessed with moving paper (with what David Mathison called “packaging” in his talk at the 2010 BAIPA conference) around rather than getting attention. What they need is a platform that lets them know who is reading what. When it comes to e-books, they’ve ceded carriage to Amazon, and now to Apple. And because the iBook app doesn’t come pre-installed on the iPad,

That means that carriage is going to be an issue from the first day, because before you can even read a book on the iPad, you’re going to have to go download an app for it. Which is opening a huge door for any publisher with guts, who could, if I were doing it, join up with five other publishers and jointly issue your own app. Because if you issue your own app, then you don’t have to cut Apple in, the way you do in the current system, but most important, the data, the privilege, the ability to find out who needs what and how to get it to them, belongs to the publishers, not to the middleman.

My immediate thought was that it would never happen. Not because the Big Six would never cooperate in such a venture (though they might not). Not even because traditional publishers believe they’re in the business of producing and distributing physical objects rather than words, as Godin claims in the interview.

No, because Apple wouldn’t permit the competition. Back when the iPod Touch and the iPhone first came out, the mobile version of iTunes installed on them didn’t support podcasts. But when someone created a podcatching application, Apple wouldn’t allow it in the App Store because it competed with iTunes. Or would compete with iTunes, once iTunes supported podcasting on the iPhone and iPod touch.

And this was for something that didn’t actually make Apple any money.

So it’s pretty hard for me to believe that they’d allow serious competition for their iBook store.

For a moment, looking at the iPad app store, I thought I might be wrong. After all, there’s not only a Kindle app (the better to keep people from buying a competitor’s device) but a few other e-book applications, at least one of those focuses on free public-domain books. And let’s not forget the comic books and magazines. There are plenty of individual books (and Vooks) for sale as apps, but we had those already on the iPhone, and Apple gets its cut of each of those.

If you have contrary information and can refute me, please do, but I can’t imagine that Apple is letting Amazon sell books through its Kindle app, or Marvel Comics through it’s iPad app, without taking a cut. (It would certainly account for per issue prices that have Marvel’s reviewers complaining). The percentage they take of individual book apps is fair enough, at least by comparison with what an author can expect to get in royalties from a traditional publishing deal, but if anyone else is going to make money off an iPad app, Apple will, too. It beggars belief that they would do it any other way.

Because you can’t get an app into  the App Store without Apple’s permission (and, rumor has it, without designing the thing on Apple-approved tools), there’s no way book publishers could create a platform for recommending, selling, and reading books without cutting Apple in on the profits. Hence Apple would inevitably have a say in the pricing of any Mystery Novel or Science Fiction bookstore app that the publishers got together to produce, and it’s pretty unlikely that they’d stand for anything that seriously undercut the prices in their own iBook store. And that could act as quite a deterrent, not just to the big publishers, who might not be flexible enough to try such a thing anyway, but to smaller publishers, who might.

It could still be worth it for publishers to create their own system, for the sake of that data about who’s reading what. Amazon’s recommendation engine, its ability to say “People who bought this also bought that” is a great tool. So are its reviews, even if not all of them are genuine. There might be something extra that a publisher-created e-book app could offer to readers, and to the publishers, that would make it a worthwhile investment. But it’s not going to be freedom from Apple’s influence, not on Apple’s device.

Apple is the ultimate closed system. If you want to play with their toys, you play by their rules. If book publishers really want an e-book distribution system that they control, they’re going to have to produce their own e-book reader, and it’s going to have to provide a better experience than the Kindle and the iPad put together.

I’m not holding my breath.

George Morrisey’s Tips for Budding Authors

George Morrisey, a management consultant, professional speaker, and the author or co-author of 19 books, posted the following tips to the October 2nd edition of SpeakerNet News. I have re-printed them here with his permission.

My books have been far and away my most important marketing tool over my 38 years in the speaking business. However, the role of books in the marketplace today is radically different from when I started. With that in mind, let me offer some tips for you to consider as you approach the place of books in your speaking career.

  • Unless you write a best-selling sex book, the likelihood of your being able to generate significant revenue from books is very low. My best year of royalties was about $35,000.
  • Your main reason for having a published book is to position yourself as an expert in your field.
  • However, what is different today is that a book can become a foundation for a spin-off of 15–20 other products/services that can produce significant revenue. These include such things as consulting, facilitation, workbooks, assessment instruments, webcasts, recorded presentations that can be downloaded, subscriptions to a variety of ongoing services, ebooks, and online training, just to mention a few. You are limited only by your own imagination.
  • Lengthy books of several hundred pages are history. Most best-selling business books today are under 100 pages in length that include lots of pictorial and graphic illustrations.
  • Content is still vitally important but it does not need to be beaten to death. Whether we like it or not, there are very few books today that are read cover to cover.
  • Remember, however, that YOU get better as you grow in your speaking profession but the books and other publications you have already published do NOT get better. Whatever you publish needs to be something you will still be proud of 10 years later.
  • Determine if you want to self-publish or work with a commercial publisher. My preference is to go with a commercial publisher for the primary book unless you are willing and able to invest a lot of time, energy and money in promoting it. Self-published books will rarely, if ever, be found in bookstores. Spin-off products are perfect for self-publication and should be looked on as items that can be easily updated or created anew and brought to market quickly.
  • For commercial publishing, my preference is going with a medium-size publisher rather than with one of the giants. Medium-size publishers are likely to provide more personalized treatment and key decision makers are more accessible. You will probably get little or no advance from them but a greater willingness to establish a specific promotional budget. With large publishers, your book is one of several hundred to several thousand titles they will offer in a year. Unless you are a celebrity or a REAL best-selling author, they are likely to offer it to the market and, if it doesn’t take off in the first few weeks, they will catalog it and forget it. Less than half of all commercially-published books recover their initial costs, much less make a profit for the publisher.
  • Regardless of what the publisher may suggest, every clause in their “standard” contract is negotiable. A few things to keep in mind:
    1. You should reserve the right to publication, without the publisher’s permission, in any media that they do not provide.
    2. Insist on being a part of the final decision regarding title, cover, and jacket copy.
    3. Be certain you have the right to purchase the books at bulk prices and that you may sell the books yourself.
  • Set a goal for yourself for when you will schedule time for writing, and stick to it.

Interview with Mitch Joel

book_trans.gifMitch Joel is a social media rock star who runs an extremely successful digital marketing business in Beautiful Montreal. I’ve been listening to his Six Pixels of Separation podcast since he started it. Since he’s just come out with a book by the same name, everyone is interviewing him about his social media insights.

I, on the other hand, wanted to talk to Mitch about publishing. He’s said too many interesting things on Media Hacks recently. (Two of the other contributors to Media Hacks, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, have just published a best-selling book together, and another one, Hugh McGuire, runs a book start-up.)

In this interview, Mitch talks about:

  • His previous experience with the publishing industry
  • The importance of having a platform
  • The difference between writing a book and writing a collection of blog posts
  • The powerful mystique that publishing a book retains even (or especially) in the age of social media
  • The value of a good editor
  • Why his publisher made his book more blog-like
  • Distribution and business models in publishing
  • What makes a book a book

Mitch is an incredibly articulate one-take podcaster. I’m not. I’ve edited this interview slightly for fluency. In particular, I’ve rearranged the beginning, because Mitch and I started our conversation before his introduction.

A big thanks to Mitch for such a fabulous interview.

Since they can’t keep Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone Is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone in the stores, I’d recommend you all buy it on Amazon (and give me a few cents in commission while you’re at it).

Can You Trademark a Book Title?


As I discovered when working with Eve Abbott on How to Do Space Age Work with a Stone Age Brain™, the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) includes books in the class of “paper goods.” Whether or not that classification represents an accurate definition of a book in the 21st century, it’s one of the hardest to qualify for. The applicant has to be using the “mark”—that is, the book title—for at least three different products in that class. They could be a series of books, or a book, a workbook, and a supplement to the book, or a series of books, but there’s not really a way to protect the title of a single book, either through trademark or through copyright.

The same is true for films. It can be confusing at times, if more than one book or film (or CD, for that matter) of the same name becomes famous. Still, the pool of possible titles would be extremely limited if everyone had to search the trademark database before coming up with a book title, especially since many books with the same title are in completely different genres and wouldn’t directly compete with one another, no matter what the USPTO might think.

Still, if you can come up with a unique title for your book, it’s an advantage. It doesn’t hurt to check or Books in Print to see whether anyone has published a book with your number one choice of title in the past 10 years.

It’s also good to remember that your publisher may change your book’s title, so there’s no point filing for a trademark until after you have a contract.

Post adapted from the answer to a LinkedIn question on March 23, 2008.

Book Review: Thinking Like Your Editor

Book Cover: Thinking Like Your Editor
Thinking Like Your Editor:
How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction—and Get It Published

Susan Rabiner & Alfred Fortunato
W. W. Norton & Company, 2002
Paperback, 288 pp.
ISBN-13: 978-0393324617
List Price: US $15.95

I’ve read many (very good) books about how to write a non-fiction book proposal. While Thinking Like Your Editor includes a substantial section on your “submission package” and concludes with a sample of a successful proposal, the best parts of this book are the subjects not covered in similar books.

Of course, the authors should know all about the importance of including something in your book that your competitors don’t have: they’re literary agents. Before she was an agent, Susan Rabiner was an editor, first with a university press, then with HarperCollins. She provides a lot of inside info not just on how editors interact with authors, but on how they deal with booksellers. (Getting a new book onto a prominent display of new titles requires the payment of “co-op money.”)

There are too many important points made in this book to list here, but one that I can’t remember seeing put into so many words is “Every work of serious nonfiction (Rabiner and I disagree on the need for a hyphen in that word) begins with a question the author has about the topic and ends with an answer the author wants to provide.”

This is something I need to ask my clients, many of whom have a topic but aren’t yet sure which book on that topic they’re going to write: “What is the question driving your book?” The answer to that question could result in several different books on the same topic—books that might compete with one another, but which might all find publishers, nevertheless.

In fact, I might even start asking that question of my blog and podcast clients. It has that “If it was a snake, it woulda bit me” sense of obvious rightness to it.

In addition to such tips as how to leave a good voice mail message for an agent, the book addresses the specific issues of writing serious non-fiction, methodically laying out many things that lurk in the realm of intuition for those who have read widely in this genre. There are lots of good tips for recovering academics, things I had to learn by doing when I made the transition from jargon-laden academic writing to punchier, to-the-point business writing and copywriting.

The one problem I have with this book is that it doesn’t define “serious non-fiction.” For instance, given that Wiley, the largest publisher of business books, isn’t listed among the trade publishers of serious non-fiction on page 130, you might think this category of book doesn’t include business books, yet there are business books chosen as examples elsewhere.

I would recommend that if you’re in doubt as to whether publishers (who themselves seem to have a different definition from this book’s authors) would consider your book “serious non-fiction,” you should read the book anyway. You can check it out of the library, as I did when Hilary Powers recommended it on the Editors Guild list, or you can buy yourself a copy to keep around as a reference, which I expect to do soon. But make a point of reading it, either way.