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Publishing News: Democratized publishing and the digital divide

Nook Press launches, self-publishing raises digital have-not concerns, ebook subscription tests continue, and BitTorrent wants more books.

Will rise in self-publishing leave world’s digital have-nots behind?

Barnes & Noble announced this week it has upgraded and rebranded its PubIt! self-publishing platform and is launching Nook Press to better compete against platforms such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Laura Hazard Owen noted at PaidContent that the major feature update is the web-based authoring tool the company developed in partnership with FastPencil that allows authors to write, format, edit, and preview ebooks in a browser.

“What we are trying to do here is make self-publishing simple,” Theresa Horner, Nook Media’s VP of digital content, told Owen. “You can come to the product, write, edit and publish into EPUB without ever knowing any bit of technology.”

The platform is only available in the U.S. at launch, Owen reported, but authors will be able to sell their work in the U.S. and the U.K.

According to Owen, B&N reports that self-published titles account for 25% of Nook ebook sales each month, and Amazon has previously reported 25% of the top 100 Kindle e-books in 2012 were self-published through its Direct Publishing platform. But how is this publishing democratization affecting the industry?

In a BrandVoice post at Forbes, SAP’s Susan Galer highlighted the success of self-published Wool author Hugh Howey and noted the risks and rewards. Quoting from Howey’s recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Galer noted that Howey managed to pull in “seven figures” on his own. But while some authors may be more successfully navigating self-publishing waters with new tools and by learning new skills in marketing and distribution, the real issue with self-publishing — especially the growing trend of digital-only self-publishing — may lie in reader access.

Galer quoted from a conversation she had with Watertown Free Public Library director Leone Cole, who pointed out the digital divide problem: “… we don’t want to have a situation where our digital have-nots only have access to print resources when so much is being published electronically. Howey could have easily decided that he wasn’t going to go the print route at all.” Galer points to the list of Internet access levels by country, noting the "sobering" percentages of the world’s population with little access, but it’s important to also consider that many of the low- or no-access countries have limited access to print resources as well.

Experiments in content subscriptions

Waterstones founder Tim Waterstone is getting ready to enter a new ebook venture called Read Petite, a digital streaming service for short-form fiction and non-fiction, including journalism works. John Harris reports at the Guardian that users will pay a monthly fee (“a few pounds,” Waterstone told him) to have unlimited access to “texts of around 9,000 words or under.” Waterstone stressed the focus of the service would be on quality content. Harris writes:

“… this is no literary Spotify, offering hundreds of thousands of items with little quality control: Waterstone is insistent the service will be ‘curated’ to ensure a high standard. Authors will have appeared in traditional print, and have been brought to Read Petite by a publisher. ‘The individual short story, or whatever it is, may not have been published, but the author will be an established, published writer,’ he says, drumming his fingers on the table to emphasis those last three words. ‘The whole point is to avoid a slush-pile of material. What we’ll guarantee is quality writing.’”

Read Petite will premier at the London Book Fair next week and will launch to the public this fall.

In related news, the Toronto Star has been testing the ebook subscription waters as well. Its Star Dispatches subscription platform launched in November, and Ryerson University journalism student Eric Mark Do reports at PBS Media Shift that the experiment thus far has proven a success. Readers subscribe to long-form journalism content for $4.33 plus tax per month and receive one emailed link per week to download the newest ebook.

Star Dispatches’ editorial director Alison Uncles told Do that feature writers have authored most of the newspaper’s ebooks so far, but that titles from all areas are lined up for future publication. Uncles and Sandy MacLeod, vice president of consumer marketing at the Toronto Star, wouldn’t reveal their number of subscribers, Do said, but they did note a subscriber retention rate of 90% and a 20% conversion rate of free trial participants to subscribers.

BitTorrent wants authors to “hack publishing”

It wasn’t so long ago that author Megan Lisa Jones launched a promotion for her book Captive on BitTorrent, and author Tim Ferriss’ partnership with BitTorrent for his book The 4-Hour Chef was big news last fall. Its experiments so far have proven successful, and now BitTorrent wants more business from the author crowd.

Ingrid Lunden reports at TechCrunch that BitTorrent has “published an informal how-to guide for authors, encouraging them to ‘hack publishing’ and market their books like startups, complete with ‘iterative release schedule and spreadable, targeted content.’”

The guide, which is based largely on Tim Ferriss’ use of BitTorrent, highlights the platform’s reach:

“If you want everyone to read your book, let everyone read your book. Placing content within the BitTorrent ecosystem has the effect of sampling, radio play, or TV advertising. It’s just at infinite scale. … We can build books for sharing. We can sample at scale. We can give readers a stake in distribution. We can open up exchange between artist and fan, beyond the sales transaction. And we can do this in a way that drives creative profitability. Ferriss’s experiment with distributed, startup style publishing proves there’s more than one option for authors looking to hack bestseller lists.”

Lunden notes that BitTorrent’s courting of authors is part of a “multi-year mission” to establish itself as a legitimate partner for content creators. As I noted in a post last fall, “BitTorrent’s 2013 New Year’s resolution is to ‘to align itself with the entertainment industry and legally distribute movies, music and books online.’”

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