Big Problems, Little Solutions: E-book Publishing Ideas Stolen from Gamers

Yesterday’s post generated a lot of interest. And emotion, yes, but mostly interest. If I can be allowed to revisit that post for a second, I’d like to sum the whole thing up like so:

Ignore questions of infrastructure and the costs of ebook file development; those things are tangential to the current issue. What Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and HarperCollins are doing by delaying release of ebooks has nothing to do with those issues. It is about money. Period. It’s either about pushing readers toward the purchase of hardbacks, like the good old days, or it’s about the shoving match going on between Amazon and the Big Six over the price of ebooks. Either way, it’s about money.

However, the tunnel-vision focus from the Big Six on that single issue means that they are missing something critical: by delaying the release of official ebooks, they are creating an environment in which ebook piracy (thus far, a negligible issue) can and will thrive. This will hurt them, and I believe they will transfer that pain – which they caused themselves – to their authors.

This makes me angry.


There. That’s all of yesterday TLDR post, in three paragraphs. You’re welcome.

Now then.

Generally, I try to avoid pointing out a problem without proposing some possible solutions. Doing otherwise is what the kids these days refer to as a “dick move”.


What could the Big Six do, with regard to the release of ebooks, that would be better than the idea they’re currently going with?

As I said yesterday:

Some folks asked me yesterday what I thought of James McQuivey’s idea to delay the ebook-as-a-separate-thing by four months, but also give it away as a free thing with every purchase of a hardback edition. I think it’s a great idea. I thought it was a great idea when I suggested it to my agent about six months ago on Twitter. However, I won’t take credit for it – the indie gaming industry has been doing that for years; as a smaller, more nimble publishing organism, it has already felt and adapted to the changes of the digital age, and could teach the ‘real’ publishing world a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t.

I told Joanna Penn in an interview last year that the tabletop role-playing gaming industry started out by trying to model the methods of traditional publishing, found out the hard way that that really didn’t work for them (in the long run, it’s not working for big publishers either, but they’re BIG, so they didn’t notice as soon), and had to find new solutions.  They were the first to adopt electronic publishing, shame-free POD printing, electronic-only publishing, podcasting-modules, mixed media releases, and every other experimental method anyone could think of, good or bad. That’s fine: they’re small, and experimenting is something  small groups of people can DO that big groups can’t.

But what that means is that they’ve come up with some things that consistently seem to work, which, to a greater or lesser degree, might translate into solutions for Big Publishing that would please even the greedy bastards longing for the golden profits of yesteryear.  I don’t have much time, so let’s get right to it.

Package the ebook with the hardback as a value-add

This works. More to the point it IS WORKING. Not just in gaming, but on Amazon, with the Kindle. For gaming examples, go to indie press revolution and take a look at the options for games like Penny for My ThoughtsSpirit of the Century, or Mouse Guard.  I’m not going to discuss this further; this is the granddaddy of ‘new’ ideas, and dead-fucking-simple to implement.


Whazza? Subscriptions?

Eleven million WoW players tells me that this is a sales method that can work.

Take a look at They have a brilliant kind of deal set up for all their games and plain-old books: set up a subscription to one of their channels (like Planet Stories, which is your classic pulp “planetary romance” stuff). It costs you X dollars a year or whatever. Every month, you get an email about the new releases within that “channel”, on ebook. NEW releases. If you decide to buy, you get 30% off the unwashed-masses price. (Edit: Or hey, you get it on day-of-hardback-release. Even better: Both.)

Or, how about the Big Dog of gaming, Wizards of the CoastWotC has done some stupid stuff with regard to PDFs of their products in the past, but DnD Insider is smart. Pay for a monthly subscription to the service, and you a couple magazines every month with articles and useful stuff, written by the names you’re already fans of, some cool apps, and ‘free’ access to every one of their current books, as searchable PDFs.  I’m not a member, but I gather that members also get access to ‘preview’ copies of upcoming books, months before they’re released, which generates stir and interest and maybe a few advance reviews posted on —

Oh, you know what that sounds like in publishing? Advance Reader Copies (ARCs).

Yeah: “Sign up for our monthly subscription, and get digital ARCs of our upcoming titles, and a discount on the REAL digital copy when it’s released.” What book nerd wouldn’t jump at the chance?

The Ransom Model

There are a couple game designers who do stuff like this, notably Greg Stolze and Daniel Solis. There are a couple different ways it gets implemented. With Stolze’s Reign supplements, if Greg collects enough money from contributors (the “threshold pledge”) he releases the ebook as a free download for anyone and everyone.  An easy tweak for this in Big Publishing works like this: “If we get enough preorders for the ebook, we’ll release it the same day as the hardback comes out. If not, you have to wait.” I like this, because it lets consumers tell publishers what they want — a ransom model works pretty well as a market study — the consumer has power, and if they don’t exercise it, the publisher feels justified in delaying release.

I can’t help but note that this is a pretty workable thing for indie authors. (If you don’t want to take preorder money for something you might not end up doing, run it like a publish-athon and just take pledges — it’s still a good a way to gauge interest.)

You can also reward the ransom-preorder people in lots of fun ways. A thank-you list on the website or inside the book, mentioning people who helped make that version of the book happen when it did. A unique cover for the advance-order people. Hell, I dunno – what else would be cool?

That’s stuff off the top of my head, stolen from people who are making it work in gaming (and thanks to Chris Weeda for the suggestion).

The important take-away is this: ideas and implementations vary, but they all have one thing in common: they require embracing e-publishing, not holding it at arm’s length like a used condom you found in the spare sheets for your hotel room.

Embracing it. That’s the first thing publishers need to do. That’s the first step.

Right now? I’m not seeing it.

And that’s not a problem anyone but the publishers themselves can fix.

10 Replies to “Big Problems, Little Solutions: E-book Publishing Ideas Stolen from Gamers”

  1. Regarding digital subscriptions for ARCs, you raise an interesting point. I mean, most ARCs are still hard copies. Some pubs are trying to go digital and use e-ARCs, but it’s a very close-minded system, where, for instance, I can’t read an e-ARC on my Kindle, even though I have the code to download it. Sorry, but I don’t want to sit at my computer and read a book. That’s why I have a device like the Kindle in the first place. (Also, because my awesome husband bought it for me)
    .-= ktbuffy´s last blog ..Happy Halloween! =-.

  2. There’s one cool thing you can do for ransom: Include the names of top donors in the text itself. You could have three open spaces for names, which would be filled by the top three names of the top 3 donors.

    For example, your text could be:

    “___A___ moves the pawn two spaces forward, which flanks ___B’s___ bishop and captures ____C’s____ knight.”

    Wherever ___A___ appears in the document, the top donor’s name would appear. ___B___ would be replaced by the second-place donor. ___C___ would be replaced by the third-place donor. Which would result in the following text:

    “Doyce moves the pawn two spaces forward, which flanks Kelly’s bishop and captures Shannon’s knight.”

    That works well for game books, but it might also work in fiction, by including donor’s names as characters in the story.
    .-= Daniel Solis´s last blog ..[Do] The Naming =-.

  3. The other people who are “getting” digital publishing are the smaller tech publishers. Check out Pragmatic Bookshelf ( The thing I love about their model is that if they publish a revised edition of a book, and you had bought the previous edition direct from them as a hardcopy + digital bundle, they will give you a serious discount on the price of the new edition. I’m sure that’s an idea that could be adapted to other types of book. How about if you buy the bundle now, you’ll get 20% off the next book in the series?

  4. Those are some pretty good ideas. I especially like the ransom model. I’ve already seen at least one indie author using this model and there’s no reason it couldn’t work for the big publishers.

    I wrote a past a couple days ago th a few ideas of my own. Feel free to have a look and see what you think about them.
    .-= Clifford Fryman´s last blog ..E-book Strategies for Traditional Publishers =-.

  5. Wow. I have to say this is well written (and kind of scary how I have had many of these ideas and would also have drawn parallels to the gaming industry). The Software industry has some interesting solutions as well. I am interested in speaking more about this. Please e-mail me at the address left in this post.


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