Category Archives: Barefoot Into Cyberspace

Spotted: Me and Ken Worpole talking utopias at Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Thanks to my recent initiation into post-punk anarcho-folk outfit Pog, most of the festivals I’m going to this Summer are of the muddy field variety. The exception is this upcoming talk at Stoke Newington Literary Festival, where I’ll be attempting to match acclaimed writer on urban policy Ken Worpole‘s insights on the architecture of utopias in the built environment with my own observations from the virtual realm.

It’s five years since I published Barefoot into Cyberspace: Adventures in Search of techno-Utopia. Re-reading Thomas More’s 500 year-old Utopia for this talk, and particularly Book One (the one everyone forgets), I was reminded that being sceptical about people in power and their ability to act on the best information and advice is not a new thing. In his introduction to the Penguin Classic edition, Dominic Baker-Smith talks about More’s work being essentially an exploration of the “problematic relationship between imagined worlds and mundane reality”. Although reformers of all kinds will recognise this relationship immediately, I suspect it’s also something good software engineers think about too: after all, it’s actually their job to design perfect systems for non-perfect worlds.

Ken and I were introduced by the lovely Travis Elborough, who will chair the talk. He promises to help us “explore the concept of utopia, taking in Ebenezer Howard in Hackney, Garden Cities, Buckminster Fuller, Geodesic Domes, The Grateful Dead and the World Wide Web”. It’s on Saturday 4th June in Stoke Newington and you can buy tickets here.

Pricing and distribution, or “the bottom line” [Book hacking post-mortem 2/5]

Also known as “the post with the spreadsheet”, this is part one of a series of four posts analysing how I went about publishing Barefoot into Cyberspace.

I went into this project to get attention for myself as a writer of books, and to make something of a work I realised was unlikely to get mainstream sponsorship in the timeframe it needed. As such, the bottom line was not my primary target. While I was writing and publishing the book, I was earning enough money part time to make myself a living (I moved out of London to a small village in Cambridgeshire, where rents are about a quarter the price), and to fund the book’s research, promotion and (scant) publishing costs, which totalled just over £2,000.

Nonetheless, I didn’t go into this intending to lose money, and I hope that by the end of the project, I will have made back most of the money I invested (discounting labour). I’ve put up a spreadsheet detailing sales figures and profit margins, as well as some of the headline costs. I suggest you open that up while you read the rest of this post, which goes into some heady detail about the different decisions I could have made, decisions that might have ended up with me making more money than the roughly £1,000 I have made so far.

Paid-for versions of the book were made available in print or Kindle format. The print-on-demand partner, Lightning Source, offered the book at a wholesale discount to booksellers, including Amazon, or at cost price to me. Although I could set my own wholesale price, Lightning Source recommended I set it at a 55% discount on the cover price. Around the web, authors who had used Lightning Source to get their books into mainstream channels recommended taking Lightning Source’s advice, or risking unfavourable treatment from booksellers. Although I couldn’t see quite how Amazon et al would go about discriminating against authors who had set a higher wholesale price, I didn’t want to risk jinxing the project, and so I took this recommendation.

This wholesale price explains why Amazon are able to offer such deep discounts (at one point, Barefoot was offered for around £6). If you buy a copy of the book via Amazon for the full £8.99 cover price, the income to each party is massively disfavourable to the company I set up to publish the book (Barefoot Publishing):

Booksellers cut: £4.94
Lightning Source cut: £3.16
Barefoot Publishing cut: £0.89

Conversely, if you buy a copy of the book direct from me, the Lightning Source cut remains the same and Barefoot Publishing gets the remaining £5.83. The difference in cut is pretty astounding, and there are two ways I could have improved on the net revenue from print sales: upped the cover price, and encouraged people to buy direct from me.

For example, I could have upped the cover price to £12.99 – this is the cover price for Heather Brooke’s book, The Revolution Will Be Digitised, which touches on many of the same topics as Barefoot, and in a similar, reportage-like style. This would make the revenue through booksellers shake out like this:

Booksellers cut: £7.14
Lightning Source cut: £3.16
Barefoot Publishing cut: £2.69

It would also have increased my cut from direct sales to £9.21 per unit sold, taking my overall net revenues (print and Kindle) from £1,057 to £1,834 (see Scenario 1, on the spreadsheet).

Rop Gonggrijp aka the White Rabbit, as imagined by the book's illustrator, Christopher Scally

So how about encouraging more people to buy from me direct? A few close friends with an inkling of how the book trade works contacted me over email to buy from me direct, but most of my direct sales came face-to-face at the launch party, the Chaos Communications Camp, and at various speaking events.

To encourage direct sales would have meant setting up my own e-commerce platform. In the week before the launch it was touch and go whether I would get listed on Amazon in time, as there’s quite a lag time between when Lightning Source add you to their catalogues and when you get listed on the Amazon website, and the flash-publishing process meant I was sailing pretty close to the wind, time-wise (there’ll be more on timing in a subsequent post). I therefore put a bit of time into creating my own e-commerce “pop-up shop” using Shopify, something I could point people to if they wanted to buy the book online. Shopify takes a 2% cut of all transactions, with a further 3% going to Paypal – still a long way from Amazon’s 55% cut. In the end, the Amazon listing came through, and to avoid incurring monthly hosting fees I deleted the Shopify platform.

I had two reasons for not taking Barefoot Publishing down the bespoke e-commerce route. The first was that, if I could help it, I didn’t want to burden myself with the hassle of fulfilling orders during the initial promotional phase of the book. And the second was that I felt that being available through Amazon would give me a kind of credibility that being available through a custom e-commerce platform wouldn’t. Because I was publishing the book outside of the traditional process, I was very sensitive to issues of credibility. Looking back, I think these latter concerns were just me being over-sensitive.

Order fulfilment would have basically meant taking details from the Shopify orders and plugging them into Lightning Source’s back end (if I had used Lulu, which has its own e-commerce platform built in, instead of Lightning Source, there would have been almost no hassle). Lightning Source charge a flat £1.25 handing fee per order, which is easily swallowed when you’re ordering 50 copies to sell at events, but has an impact when you’re making one or two unit orders. If I had increased the cover price *and* sold all my POD copies on a Merchant platform I controlled, I would have made £7.93 per POD unit, taking my total net revenues up to £2,644 (Scenario 3 on the spreadsheet).

Turning to the Kindle revenues. Selling books on Kindle is altogether much simpler than selling books on dead trees. Amazon’s Kindle desktop publishing platform makes it very simple, and I can really see how Kindle is making millionaires out of a few lucky self-publishers. Amazon offers two levels of royalties, 35% and, in some territories including the US and UK, 70%. To qualify for the higher rate, you have to pay for the bandwidth it takes to deliver the book, and you have to conform to certain pricing conditions. I chose the 70% royalties option in those territories where it was offered. The UK Kindle version had a cover price of £2.05, and the revenue distribution broke down like this:

Amazon cut: – £0.62
Delivery costs (bandwidth) – £0.26
Barefoot Publishing Cut – £1.18

I think the low cover price on the Kindle was a key sales driver. But, assuming for a moment that an increased cover price would not have dragged down sales, upping the price to the maximum allowed under the terms of the 70% royalty rate, £6.99, makes me an extra £869 (Scenario 2 on the spreadsheet).

In total, if I had increased the cover price of the print and Kindle books, and sold all print copies direct (Scenario 4), I could have made almost £3,500 – 3.5 times my actual net revenues from the project so far.

Postscript: The RIAA/unicorn double rainbow scenarios

Of course, the versions of the book that reached the most readers, by an order of magnitude, are the free versions I licensed CC-BY-SA. There will be more reflections on my choice to offer CC versions in a subsequent post. In the RIAA’s world, where every free download is a lost sale, I missed out on total net revenues of over £30,000 (Scenario 5). This is, of course, pure fantasy: there is no way to calculate the effect, positive or negative, that offering a free version has on sales of the paid-for versions.

Note that the RIAA’s view of these figures still maintains a healthy bottom line for the intermediaries in this project (but of course!). The unicorn double rainbow version of the figures (Scenario 6 on the spreadsheet), where every reader buys the book at a maximum margin for me, makes me over £100,000. Sa-weet!

Book-hacking post-mortem 1/5

This is the introduction to a series of four posts detailing my experiences flash-publishing Barefoot into Cyberspace last year. These posts are intended to be of interest to people who are thinking about the changes underway in publishing at the moment, to those who study the business models behind Creative Commons projects, and to anyone thinking of setting up a publishing project in the future, either for their own work, or for somebody else.

Book signing at the launch party, July 2011

Overall, I’ve been pleased by the critical response the book has received (see these three posts for a taster), and by the fact it has reached over 10,000 readers. My goal with this project was to get attention for myself as a writer of books, and to make something of a work I realised was unlikely to get mainstream sponsorship in the timeframe it needed. If you know nothing about me, or my book, you might find reading the post I wrote about why I decided to flash-publish Barefoot Into Cyberspace offers some useful context. The bottom line was not my primary concern, but as I said, publishing is changing, and there are now lots of opportunities to make money publishing your own books, some of which I took full advantage of, and others of which I missed or mishandled.

My first post takes on this topic. The series, which I plan on completing over the coming weeks, will run as follows:

  1. Pricing and Distribution – the bottom line
  2. Licensing – or giving stuff away for fun and profit
  3. Marketing and Publicity – or how to throw a great party
  4. Book poetry/book plumbing – or “what do you mean, html doesn’t know what a page is?”

Enjoy!

Photo courtesy of paul_clarke@Flickr

Barefoot into Cyberspace – figures for November and December

Below are the figures for how many people read/bought Barefoot into Cyberspace. The amount of data I have to present is now outgrowing my crass skills at html table-making, so I’ve started a public spreadsheet on Google Docs with these figures going back to August.

I’m providing these figures for people who are interested in the nuts and bolts of a book project undertaken outside of the world of mainstream publishing and with a Creative Commons element. When I started, I intended to provide these figures on a month-by-month basis, but as the title of this blog post suggests, I haven’t been so great at doing that. So if you want to be pinged each time I update these figures, without cluttering your RSS reader with my musings and links on new technologies and fundamental rights, I suggest that you subscribe to this RSS feed.

Aug-Oct Nov Dec TOTALS
html 4,488 197 341 5,026
pdf 3,429 278 947 4,654
ePub 593 35 301 929
Kindle 233 13 18 264
Direct 106 11 2 119
POD 130 8 21 159
TOTAL 8,979 542 1,630 11,151

Some explanation:

  • The last two days of July are incorporated in the figures for August
  • html stats are number of views as reported by WordPress
  • pdf stats are number of reads as reported by Scribd
  • ePub stats are kindly provided by Terence Eden
  • Direct stats are the number of print copies I have sold directly at speaking events
  • POD are the number of print-on-demand copies reported by Lightning Source, the print-on-demand partner for the book.
  • Kindle stats are provided by the Kindle direct publishing platform at kdp.amazon.com

Barefoot in your (Christmas) stocking

TL;DR If you enjoyed reading a free version of my book, why not buy a print version for one of your friends for Christmas?


Apparently, Ian McEwan once said that promoting a book can feel like being an employee of your former self. I know how he feels. The last few months have seen me lecturing students, addressing anarchists and pitching up with a stove and kettle on the main thoroughfare of the Chaos Communications Camp offering free tea to anyone who wanted a conversation, all in the name of spreading the word about Barefoot into Cyberspace. Well, I’m done. Apart from anything else, if I don’t stop sometime, I won’t find the time to write my next book.

I’m not saying it hasn’t been fun. I’m really pleased with the feedback I’ve received, and with the fact that even though self-publishing is still the equivalent of leprosy to the mainstream media, I got positive reviews in two national newspapers. I’m also fairly pleased with the audience the book has reached so far. As of now, roughly 500 Kindle and print copies of the book have been sold. And the free versions of the book about which I have data show access by around 8,500 readers.

But taking a look at those last two sets of figures gives me an idea for one last marketing opportunity. Here goes: if you enjoyed a free copy of Barefoot into Cyberspace, why not consider buying the print version for your friends this Christmas.

Julian Assange as the Mad Hatter

Just one of the superb illustrations in the paid-for version of Barefoot into Cyberspace

A lot of people have said that this book is a fun, accessible introduction to geek issues for non-geeks. One lady even wrote to me thanking me for helping her understand her husband better (I’m not kidding). You probably have some non-geek friends. So why not buy them this book?

Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com are both guaranteeing to ship the book by Christmas if you order now. You can also order the book from your local bookshop.

That is all.

Barefoot into Cyberspace – figures for October

Below are the figures for how many people read/bought Barefoot into Cyberspace in August, September and October. I’m providing them for people who are interested in the nuts and bolts of a book project undertaken outside of the world of mainstream publishing and with a Creative Commons element. I intend to provide these figures on a month-by-month basis.

Aug Sept Oct TOTALS
html 3,619 608 261 4,488
pdf 2,337 719 373 3,429
ePub 520 20 53 593
Kindle 177 39 17 233
Direct 70 24 12 106
POD 54 62 14 130
TOTAL 6,777 1,452 702 8,979

Some explanation:

  • The last two days of July are incorporated in the figures for August
  • html stats are number of views as reported by WordPress
  • pdf stats are number of reads as reported by Scribd
  • ePub stats are kindly provided by Terence Eden
  • Direct stats are the number of print copies I have sold directly at speaking events
  • POD are the number of print-on-demand copies reported by Lightning Source, the print-on-demand partner for the book.
  • Kindle stats are provided by the Kindle direct publishing platform at kdp.amazon.com

Spotted! Me at LSE this evening

I will be delivering a guest seminar as part of the IT Law & Media Seminar Series “Data Liberty in the 21st century” tonight at LSE. The seminar starts at 18:00 and lasts for an hour and a half. Attendance is free and open to all but space is limited so please email H [DOT] Tan1 [AT] lse [DOT] ac [DOT] uk to confirm your place. The venue is the New Academic Building NAB 7 Floor Moot Court.

I’ll be using the seminar to explore some of the ideas raised in my book Barefoot into Cyberspace. And I’ll be selling and signing books after the event.