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NO DRM, plus my crappy attempt to persuade people to buy more ebooks!

I’ll be posting a superlong Robert’s Roundup this weekend and then another normal-sized one in the last week of December about the Smashwords (SW) ebook deals.

As a general rule, I do NOT link to Amazon anymore (unless there is a special reason). Everyone knows how to use search engines, plus it saves time. For the most part, all of my column links will go to DRM-free links (mainly Smashwords, Project Gutenberg, etc). I generally try to link to the author’s home page if there is one.

Here are 3 labels I use when listing titles on Amazon.

  • KU means that the ebook is part of Kindle Unlimited collection. I mention this not to encourage people to sign up for KU, but notably because KU ebooks are more likely to be discounted to free — so you can set up price alerts. These free promotions are limited to 3 days every 90 days. Often authors keep their ebooks in KU for the first 3-6 months only, so you should verify if it is still in KU.
  • LE means that lending is allowed for this Amazon ebook. This lending functionality is somewhat limited, but better than nothing. Hey, if you want to borrow one of these lendable titles, feel free to email me the title. I will almost always say yes! (idiotprogrammer AT fastmailbox.net)
  • APUB means that ebook is published under an Amazon Imprint (see a list). This means that Amazon’s inhouse publishing department has acquired these titles and promote them actively using Amazon’s tools. These titles stay low-priced, and their prices tend to remain the same for the entire month. Every 3-6 months, their prices go down to 99 cents or 1.99 (so, set those price alerts!) Generally, these titles are high quality, more likely genre, slickly produced and promoted (in the best sense of the word). Many are from international authors. Little A is for literary fiction; AmazonCrossing is for translated titles.

Why do so many authors and publishers refuse to make Amazon ebooks lendable?

But Amazon invented a cool sharing/lending function for their titles. It actually works pretty well, is of limited duration and poses no piracy risk for publishers. It might reduce the tendency of someone to buy the title, but more than likely it just gives the person more time to explore the ebook. That is usually a good thing.

As it happens, on Amazon almost zero big publishers have enabled this feature, and about 50% of indie authors haven’t enabled it either. Why? Honestly, I really miss not being able to lend purchased titles with friends or swap recommendations. There’s so much cool stuff which I’d love to share with friends (or vice versa). By opting out of lending, authors are missing out on the possibility to get ebooks in front of new customers.

In praise of DRM free ebooks

I alternate between hating and loving Amazon (now I’m in a hating phase), but I have especially strong feelings against ebook DRM. It’s so unnecessary and counterproductive. I noticed that imore has a very nice list of DRM-free publishers. Obviously Smashwords is the biggest outlet for DRM-free, but there’s also Verso, Humble Bundle, Tor, Baen and various tech publishers (Packt, Oreilly, No Starch, Apress).

DRM-free ebooks are better because their use cannot be limited or cancelled by a bookstore’s infrastructure. I bought a few dozen ebooks from ebook sellers who went out of business, and now I am stuck. This day will happen for all booksellers eventually. The usual excuse for DRM is to prevent piracy. This is not a terrible argument, but it adds an extra layer of complexity and dependency. Also, aside from reducing piracy on high-priced bestselling titles, DRM doesn’t really help most indie authors. (One method that would deter me is “social DRM” — i.e., using identifying watermarks — like “This ebook is licensed exclusively to Robert Nagle”).

This is not a great risk right now, but what if Google and Amazon fought and Amazon suddenly decided: hey, let’s not support a Kindle app on android devices anymore! What could consumers do? Essentially nothing. They could not move their purchased ebooks out of one ebook distribution system into another.

Practically speaking, major publishers and authors sell only at bookstores which use DRM. You can submit ebooks DRM-free to bookstores, but it would be somewhat complicated to move these ebooks into another book infrastructure.

On the other hand, books without DRM have their own problems.

First, you have to keep your files safe. (Solution: Upload everything into Google Drive or Dropbox. Problem solved!)

Second, you need an easy interface to view cloud-based ebooks offline. That means uploading ebooks, organizing into shelves and making the interface usable. We don’t have a good interface for that yet, but we are almost there.

Third, you have to manage space limitations. This is actually a bigger problem than you believe. Devices have limited storage space, and Google Play is a huge memory hog, and there’s no way to figure out which ebooks are taking up the most space. Fortunately, this problem is solvable though the booksellers have not tried to fix it.

New blog feature: Crappy Interstitial Ebook Ads (sort of)

A year ago I started offering free ebook ads for Smashwords ebooks. Smashwords is DRM-free and indie-friendly and provides better royalties. Second, if I’m recommending ebooks, it costs me nothing really to provide free ads for them. I signed up for SW’s affiliating marketing program (which meant having to cancel participation in Amazon’s affiliate program — good riddance). Making money is not my primary motive here, but I’m not allergic to doing so.

A few months ago, I had a dose of reality. First, earnings from SW affiliate marketing program were practically nonexistent. This is partly because ebooks bought directly from SW are still a small portion of the ebook market. But 55% of my web surfers on this blog read on mobile phones, and another 8% are on tablets. My right sidebar containing the ads doesn’t even show up for these people.

I still want to feature some ebook promotions and am working on a solution that is not too distracting or complicated to implement.

Fortunately, WordPress might help with that. I really don’t want to use a plugin — especially an ad server, but the built in Gutenberg text editor lets you insert custom boilerplate blocks of text wherever you want. So I could design a few boilerplates and insert them strategically in blogposts. Perspicacious readers may notice that at the bottom of ebook columns, I’ve been doing this anyway. I may enhance this slightly — and keep them under the fold so that they don’t appear on the main URL for literary-oriented posts.

On the main URL I will include short posts including my promotions in differentiated texts. These short promotional posts won’t be too distracting, I promise. Also, even though I potentially derive financial benefit from them, I still endorse these ebooks!

I want this blog to remain personal and basically noncommercial while still promoting no-DRM publishers and indie authors. Hopefully these new changes will not change the overall readability of this blog.

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