When I walked into the lobby at Scribd, I noticed an object nailed into the floor – a small plastic ramp. Next to it sat a pile of kick scooters. The ramp was for jumping those scooters into the air.
This wasn’t going to be the same old publishing experience.
They asked if I’d be one of a handful of authors to participate in the premier of Scribd Store, their e-commerce offering designed to give publishers, authors and everyday people the chance to sell their work to a readership of millions.
I jumped in and brought two friends, all of us bestselling authors.
No, we’re not giving up on printed books. But what’s happening with my new novel The Sowerand Scribd is a sign of how the world of books is changing.
Scribd is sometimes called “the YouTube of documents.” Started in 2007 by Harvard students Trip Adler and Jared Friedman, the idea was to make the written word accessible. Once a document goes on Scribd, it can be read with a click. Anyone can instantly publish to the world.
Millions of documents have gone up so far, including backlist titles uploaded by mainstream publishers.
And people are reading: more than 60 million unique users per month. That’s twice the size of the audience of American Idol.
As the first authors to launch with Scribd, we each saw unique opportunities for our books:
Tamim Ansary is known for bestselling non-fiction, including his latest Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes (Public Affairs, April 2009). But Ansary also loves writing fiction, so he’s exploring his creative side with his historical novel, The Widow’s Husband.
Joe Quirk has two bestsellers. His new novel, “Exult,” is set in the world of hang gliding and appeals to men. With men comprising more than 50% of Scribd’s users, Quirk is looking for new fans in the digital realm.
For me, it’s about timing.
A follow-up to my debut bestseller SoMa (Kensington 2007), The Sower is a darkly comic thriller set in a fictionalized version of the present day. It taps into the current national mood – the backlash against conservative ideologies and corporate greed. With print, I’d wait until 2011 to publish. Would the public still feel the same way then?
An e-book also allows me to add the latest topical references, making a novel set in the present feel absolutely current. This first edition includes references to swine flu, Susan Boyle, and TheDailyBeast.com.
That flexibility is exciting. But what makes an e-book such a wonder also causes worry. Isn’t it easier to steal?
That’s being worked on in several ways.
Scribd is best when reading live online in “book mode.” It’s got animated page turns and is lovely on a laptop. The first time I saw it, I thought…wow. It even remembers which page you’re on. For offline reading, users can download a PDF, which can be encrypted with software that prevents forwarding. An iPhone app is in the works.
The company also has an ambitious effort underway to set industry standards for preventing book piracy. If you don’t own a document, you’re not allowed to upload it. Scribd’s Copyright Management System works with publishers and authors to flag copyright violations, remove misappropriated books, and prevent future misuse. It’s newly developing technology, and the missteps have gained notoriety in the press, but more documents are protected every day.
The work on copyright protection is reminiscent of when videos and music first hit the web. Today YouTube has deals with TV networks to split revenues, and Apple offers a path to music profits with iTunes.
E-books are also evolving, but in the meantime I’m not worried about my novel being stolen. There’s too much upside to reaching that huge new audience. In fact, Tamim, Joe, and I are taking an additional step to entice readers. We’re selling our books for just $2.00.
That’s a recession-era price. (Remember, paperbacks debuted during The Depression.) And since Scribd pays copyright holders 80% of revenues, a lower price is viable.
Besides, this is only the debut of our books. There’s still a readership for our novels in print, and with Scribd we retain all rights: hardcover, paperback, foreign language, audio, film/TV, etc. E-book debuts can create buzz, and potentially become a new tool for agents, publishers and booksellers to find titles that warrant further exposure.
That’s not the same old publishing experience. You don’t need to do scooter jumps in the lobby to realize that.