There's an EXCELLENT piece up on @FastCompany by Steven Melendez about my Kickstarter campaign to pre-sell audibooks of my next novel, as a way to demonstrate the viability of publishing audio without caving to Audible/Amazon's mandatory DRM policy.

fastcompany.com/90549199/why-t…

1/
Melendez does great work laying out the case for refusing DRM, and the risks to publishers and writers in allowing Amazon to lock their works to its platform (it's a felony to remove DRM or provide the tools to do so, even if you own the copyright to the DRM-locked work!).

2/
Reading his piece, it strikes me that I could do a better job for laying out my theory of change here - how preordering the audiobook could actually lead to a fairer world where power shifts away from Amazon (owners of Audible) to the creators of audiobooks.

3/
Obviously most authors couldn't do what I'm doing. I've been publishing books since 2000, more than 20 of 'em, with several NYT bestsellers. This particular book is the sequel to two MASSIVE bestsellers with huge, dedicated followings.

4/
Publishing lives and dies on this kind of book. One of the major reason that publishers publish "midlist" books and first novels is in the hopes that they'll "break out" and become perennial bestsellers that subsidize the next round of risky bets on midlist and first books.

5/
So while this isn't a typical kind of book, it's an important one.

So let's say this does really well in audio, selling, say, 10,000 copies. That works out really well for me, as I'm the publisher for this one, because I keep 95% of that (Kickstarter gets 5%).

6/
By contrast, if my publisher sold this with Audible, they'd get 70% (Amazon takes 30%), and then I'd get 25% of that (17.5% of the gross). That means I earn 542% of what my take would be with a publisher/Audible on these sales.

kickstarter.com/projects/docto…

7/
So my profit on 10,000 self-published, Kickstarted audiobooks is roughly equivalent to 54,200 commercial books sold through Audible. I had to pay to produce the audiobook and put in a hard month's work on promoting the KS, but that still a great upside.

8/
So that's one way things could change. Frontlist writers could demand to retain their audio rights in publisher negotiations and do what I did. It's hard work, and only a minority of writers are situated to do it, but it would make sense for some of 'em.

9/
And that would definitely make a dent in Amazon's business: they're a hit-driven biz, too. If a big chunk of major books were "Audible exclusive" (that is, sold everywhere EXCEPT Audible), they'd feel the pinch, first in lost revenues and then in lost subscribers.

10/
After all, once the presale campaign is over, this book will be for sale everywhere EXCEPT Audible: libro.fm, downpour.com, even Google Play. All of those stores have stock and plans that are basically identical to Audible.

11/
And if they amass sizeable collections of exclusive-of-Audible bestsellers, there will be good reasons for customers to defect to them from Audible.

12/
But what about the publishers? Well, maybe they won't release their frontlist authors' audiobook rights - but if they can make MUCH more money by working WITH authors to presell their audiobooks, AND weaken Amazon's stranglehold over their business...why wouldn't they?

13/
In this scenario, authors and publishers do (better-than-retail) revenue shares for a crowdfunded, DRM-free presale campaign, again diverting the bestselling titles from Amazon/Audible, once again driving support for retail alternatives to Amazon.

14/
One advantage I haven't mentioned yet: shifting away from Audible is GREAT news for libraries, since neither Audible originals, nor Kindle originals, are available AT ALL for library purchase. Imagine a publisher BOYCOTTING LIBRARIES!

15/
And here's the theory-of-change part: realistically, not selling through Amazon means that a lot of readers and listeners won't encounter your work - even if you make more money overall, this is not ideal.

16/
My end-game is for Amazon to make good on the promise it made in 2008 when it bought Audible: to drop its DRM (or at least make it optional!). That way, readers who buy their audiobooks from Amazon can change retailers without abandoning their expensive audiobooks.

17/
That alone won't end Amazon's dominance (we'll need meaningful antitrust enforcement for that), but without that step, competition doesn't have a hope in hell.

18/
We MUST end the situation where every dollar spent on our books at Audible is a dollar our readers will have to throw away to switch to a rival.

We can do that, and we don't need every writer to be in a position to refuse Audible to make it happen.

19/
We just need to starve them of the books from their most popular authors - and happily, those authors stand the best chance of making MORE money by doing crowdfunders for pre-sales.

20/
If bestsellers like me do this, we'll make more money AND we'll make the world better for ALL authors.

And one more bonus: I'm using the crowdfunder to presell ebooks (and sell ebooks for the previous two volumes - 4,000 ebooks in five days (and counting).

21/
I'm the retailer for these ebooks, so I get 30% off the top, send the remaining 70% to my publisher, and they send me 25% of that back as a royalty: that means I get 47.5% of the gross on these.

22/
And they're ebooks that are sold without enriching Amazon.

That's my fiendish plan - my plan to be the pebble that starts the avalanche that moves the mountain.

23/
You can help! A $15 pre-order for the audiobook (list price $25!) will help to change the world:

kickstarter.com/projects/docto…

I look forward to selling the first-ever DRM-free Audible book.

(thank you for attending my TED Talk!)

eof/

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More from @doctorow

20 Sep
The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Mitch McConnell's cynical reversal of his Obama-era prohibition on confirming a new Supreme Court justice in the waning days of an administration has kicked off a lot of interest in the possibility of "packing the court."

1/ Image
The number of Supreme Court justices is not spelled out in the Constitution: rather, it is the subject of federal law, and a new Congress, Senate and President could in theory pass a new law, expanding or contracting the number of judges - we could have a 21-seat bench!

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How this could play out is complicated. @henryfarrell's history of FDR's threat to pack the court rebuts the idea that court-packing undermines democratic norms, arguing that the threat itself tamed the court and made it pliable to the New Deal.

crookedtimber.org/2020/09/19/the…

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20 Sep
Julian Assange's extradition hearings are frankly terrifying, and if you care about the free press, you should be worried, irrespective of whether you like Assange or Wikileaks. As the old saying goes, "Hard cases make bad law."

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The Trump DoJ indictment goes somewhere that no other president has dared to go: criminally charging a publisher for their role in the publication of classified docs, something that press outlets do regularly.

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19 Sep
We are living in a golden age of predatory capitalism, in which businesses that generate real value and stable employment are being destroyed by deep-pocketed quasi-tech firms that lose money on every transaction but hope to make it back by securing monopolies.

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Nowhere is this more visible than in the restaurant industry, where a bewildering array of deceptive (and even fraudulent) tactics are being deployed by Doordash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Yelp, who have nonconsensually interposed themselves between eaters and restaurateurs.

2/
If this is ringing bells, you might be recalling the infamous May case-study in which a pizzeria owner discovered that Doordash had put up a fake delivery page for his restaurant and was selling his pizzas for less than he charged for them.

pluralistic.net/2020/05/18/cod…

3/
Read 25 tweets
19 Sep
I'm grateful to @AndrewRichard and @PublishersWeekly for the chance to lay out the logic behind the Kickstarter campaign to sell the audiobook for Attack Surface, the third Little Brother book, in a column called "We Need to Talk About Audible."

publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/in…

1/
The fact that traditional media companies like publishers are now beholden to Amazon - their direct competitor - is somewhat attributable to a lack of foresight on their part, but it largely the result of real chicanery on the part of the Big Tech monopolists.

2/
I mean, it's not like the publishers were stupid the way Borders (RIP) was: remember when the largest books retailer in the USA decided to make Amazon its online division in 2000? They cancelled the deal in 2007 and went bankrupt in 2011. That was slow suicide.

3/
Read 18 tweets
18 Sep
Today's Twitter threads (a Twitter thread).

Inside: In Search Of A Flat Earth; A cryptographic mystery solved; Youtube's war on algorithmic radicalization; The Hardware Lottery; and more!

Archived at: pluralistic.net/2020/09/18/the…

#Pluralistic

1/
My first-ever Kickstarter is on! Pre-order the audiobook and/or ebook of Attack Surface, the third Little Brother book, and help me redefine the way publishers, writers and readers deal with Big Tech monopolies!

kickstarter.com/projects/docto…

2/
In Search Of A Flat Earth: From Flat Earth to Qanon, the rise of murderous cults.



3/
Read 17 tweets
18 Sep
Google Brain researcher @sarahook's new paper "The Hardware Lottery," proposes that there is a secret, relentless force that bends the course of machine learning: processor architecture.

arxiv.org/abs/2009.06489

1/
Hooker observes that computer scientists are curiously indifferent to the constraints and capabilities of processors, and proceed in a vacuum of information about these, designing machine learning algorithms that are sometimes stymied by bottlenecks in processor designs.

2/
While other machine learning techniques thrive and grow to dominate, not merely because they do something useful, but because they do something useful that can be readily accomplished with the hardware that we can currently access.

3/
Read 12 tweets

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