Steve Berkowitz: Smart Guy, Tough Job
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Forbes on Books

ForbesForbes recently published this series of articles on the current state of book publishing as well as forecasts for the future.  I found the ones by Cory Doctorow ("Giving It Away") and Ben Vershbow ("The Networked Book") to be the most interesting.  Some thoughts on both:

Giving It Away

Most people who download the book don't end up buying it, but they wouldn't have bought it in any event, so I haven't lost any sales, I've just won an audience.

Excellent point, but one not many publishers are ready to accept just yet.  We've experimented a bit with this in our own group at Wiley.  For example, Robert Scoble and Shel Israel's Naked Conversations was written and commented about on a public blog.  The book has done and continues to do quite well.  Would we have sold more copies if something less than 100% of the content was available on the blog?  I seriously doubt it.  The blog was the primary publicity vehicle for the project and served us well.  The reality is that we're all learning as we go on this front, but I definitely see the value of free content online; I'm not saying I'd do it for every project, but I see where it makes sense in many situations.

What is certain is that every writer who's tried giving away e-books to sell books has come away satisfied and ready to do it some more.

Another very good point.  The only negative stories seem to come from all those rogue websites that somehow managed to post books without permission.  Any project that I've been involved with where we deliberately provided full free access has always deemed a success.

I don't think it's practical to charge for copies of electronic works.

OK, here's where I disagree!  Most folks know the paper, binding and other costs associated with making the physical book aren't the primary expense; it's everything else involved in authoring, editing, laying out, indexing, promoting, selling, etc., that cost the most.  While I generally feel the price of an e-book should be less than the price of the the same printed book, there's no way that price needs to drop all the way down to zero.  Further, although consumers have a wealth of free information at their disposal, that doesn't mean they'll never pay for e-content now or in the future.  Prices have to adjust and publishers need to present a solid value proposition.

...but you can't force a reader to pay for access to information anymore.

Again, I disagree.  But I'm not looking to force a reader to do anything!  My goal is to offer them a product they find irresistible and want to spend money on!

The Networked Book

The individual author will be needed more than ever as a guide through the info-glutted landscape.

This excerpt got me thinking about the new role of the editor.  Considering all the content available on any given topic today, an e-content editor should serve as more of a travel guide, flagging all the best reading stops along the way.  That's also what many bloggers do today.  For example, I read a lot of articles, blogs, etc., related to publishing and generally try to refer to only the best when I point to them from my blog; I greatly appreciate it when other bloggers do the same since it saves me a lot of time.


Jeremy James

Another great post, Joe. I agree with you on everything but charging for copies of electronic works. Here is the critical distinction: Should publishers charge for electronic works? Yes...UPFRONT! In other words, publishers ought to charge to *release* an electronic work, but after it's "in the wild" let people do with it as they wish (copy, share, etcetera). Charging for "copies" and charging for the work are clearly two different things.

Keep up the great blogging!



Great post. I think the idea of an author being a "guide" is a powerful one. In fact, this applies to anyone who publishes information of any kind or who strives to make money from their expertise.

This is the information age. As the "Long Tail" continues to be populated with niche content, people will look for guidance and leadership to find the information that they need.

To be a leader, you need to be willing to "give it away" first. If you have the foresight and courage to so this, it will bring people back again and again and result in more sales and success in the long run.

More copies of my book have been sold as a result of my blog, podcast, web tutorials and speaking engagements than anything else. Each of those provides my content for free, but the book sales and consulting gigs continue to come.

The personal brand starts with gaining someone's trust after delivering value freely.

Incidentally, Robert wrote the forward to my book, Promoting Your Podcast, and I just started reading his book, Naked Conversations today.

Anyway, I just wanted to add to this conversation. Thanks for pointing out those Forbes articles.

Jason Van Orden

Greg Stielstra


Just discovered your blog. Nice work.

Studies show that more people buy a book because of word-of-mouth than any other reason. But people can’t talk about your book until they’ve had an experience with it. Therefore, one must create a base of customer evangelists whose recommendations can start the process. I think giving it away is an excellent way to quickly achieve a critical mass of customer evangelists.

I retained the audio rights to my book (PyroMarketing: The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life) so I could use it promotionally. I have been streaming it and giving it via free MP3 downloads from my site since my book published in September 2005. I used to require people to register before they could download it, but beginning next Wednesday I will waive that requirement too.

Without a control group I can’t say how much this has increased sales, but I do have anecdotal evidence. It led to some publicity last Christmas when several bloggers suggested the freebie as a gift and linked to my site. It also leads to sales even among those who got the free copy. People often email me to say, “I got as far as chapter three before going to the store to buy a printed copy for myself and another for a friend.” Spread the fire. GS

By the way I was pleased to see books by Yancey and Strobel in your library. I worked at Zondervan for 14 years and had the privelage of working on both of those books.

Joe Wikert

Jeremy, you suggest an interesting model. I'd probably be more supportive of it if there were some way to encourage the second, third, etc., person down the line to contribute to the revenue stream. If you wrote a book under this model, wouldn't you be concerned about only the first person paying and all the others enjoying the free ride? Also, I don't see why the first person who pays should be penalized. Why are they different from their friend, who gets it for free?

Jason, I totally agree with this point you made: The personal brand starts with gaining someone's trust after delivering value freely. I also just stopped by your website -- nice job! I especially like the "Podcasting University" angle.

Greg, thanks for weighing in as well. I hope you'll stop back again after you remove the MP3 registration requirement; it would be interesting for everyone to know whether that caused download activity to increase and by how much. I've got a bookcase full of Zondervan titles -- they publish some wonderful books! Congrats for having been part of that great team.

Michael A. Banks

The idea of giving away sample content is of course not new. From the mid-1980s on I was distributing excerpts from my books about portable computing and getting online via databases on DELPHI, CompuServe, AOL, PC-Link, The Source, etc. (And I recall the occasional novel except being handed out in pamphlet form at WaldenBooks, et al. in the 1970s.)

I'm still distributing promptional material on the Web today. But rather than excerpts from the book the question, I provide information from my research. If you read the postings that accompany my Crosley biography or my eBay book at or at my Web site, you'll find information that is in the book, along with information that is not in the book. In posting that material I'm hoping to generate interest in the book's subject, and hence the book. It's on a par with writing magazine articles on the subject, except I don't get paid as with the articles.

As Joe says, "My goal is to offer them a product they find irresistible and want to spend money on!" In the case of the Crosley book, I'm not precisely offering the product, but getting them hooked on the subject (I hope)--for which my book is the only source of all the information.

As for charging users for information, that's done all the time. We have ProQuest (no, most users don't pay directly, but there are many libraries that pay thousands of dollars a month for access). We have newspaper databases that charge for seeing the text of old articles ... and Lexis, Literary Market Place, and lots more.

Regards giving away books and Cory Doctrow's theory on building an audience ... that works fine for fiction writers, but not so well for non-fiction writers. Usually a non-fiction book has little or no continuity with titles by the same author that precede or follow it. With novels, readers seek out a specific writer because they know her storytelling and style and technique are going to be consistent, no matter what the novel is. Hence, I bought Midnight Mass by F. Paul Wilson because I'd read some of his "Repairman Jack" novels and figured I could count on the same level of good writing as I'd seen in those books. I wasn't disappointed.

And this is what Doctrow is hoping for, that a lot of people who have read the work he's given away will pick his novel in a bookstore instead of one by an author they haven't read, because they figure they can count on a good read.

Joe Wikert

Hi Mike. Good points. I just spent a few minutes poking around a bit on your website. Nice job. I also just added your blog's RSS feed to my reader. Thanks as well for pointing to the LitChick blog...I added that too.

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