My dissertation was published in 1990 as Keeping Watch: A History of American Time. It was initially published by Viking Penguin, and sold about 8000 copies–pretty good for an academic book. Penguin did a paperback but only kept it in print for a year. The Smithsonian press did an edition after that and kept it in print for about ten years. It’s been out of print for a while now.
Since then I’ve gotten a Kindle–in large part because we’re out of space for books. I like the Kindle a lot. It’s very easy to read with it, especially lighter fiction. Academic reading is a little harder and takes some getting used to, but most of the time, I’m disappointed if there isn’t a Kindle edition.
Since copyright for Keeping Watch reverted to me, I thought I’d just publish it myself as an electronic edition of some sort.
- I’d make some royalties–the royalty rate is 70%. That’s so much better than the royalty rate I got on the paper book that it’s laughable. It’s not just greed, there’s kind of a sense of justice to that royalty rate. I think I might have gotten 8% on the hardcover of Keeping Watch–whatever the standard rate was at the time. Most of the rest went to posh offices in NYC and editors and agents buying each other lunch.
- Amazon’s excellent software–the Amazon website is extremely good at “recommending” titles. The book already has a “presence” on Amazon from the paper editions.1 It’s much more likely to find readers through Amazon than any other way. Google Books, for example, links you to Amazon.
- Amazon’s proprietary format–it violates the spirit of information sharing and the ancient and noble traditions of book-lending.
- Why charge for it at all?
That’s obviously the tricky question. I feel like it’s a very good book: I’m still proud of it. Surely labor should be compensated? On the other hand, I’ve been compensated for it: it sold reasonably well, I got tenure from it. It’s knowledge that should be available. “Information wants to be free:” why should information settle for being cheap?
What would the alternative format be? I detest .pdfs. They’re slow, cumbersome, and the damn Adobe software is constantly asking me to update. I’ve never liked the pdf format: it’s like a deliberate evasion of the advantages of digital. So that’s out. Putting it on the web as straight HTML? It’s hard to read a long book in HTML on a browser: it’s inelegant. Epub is ok, but there’s the audience question. I’d like the book to be read as much as possible.
The late Roy Rosenzweig used to point out that this was every author’s fantasy, that a large audience waited breathlessly for the book. This accounted for the colonic titles: Breathless Anticipation: The Election of Benjamin Harrison, 1888. How much of an audience is there for 20 year old book on standard time?
I’m not really sure how to make “full view” available on Google Books. I’m not sure it’s possible, since as I understand it, the libraries from which it was digitized are reluctant to grant full access.
I went and learned how to prepare it for the Kindle. Basically, the best approach is to take whatever digital form you have it in–in my case, I have the uncorrected chapters sent to the publisher before copy editing–and convert it to HTML, then strip out as much of the non essential code as possible. My files were in MS Word. I was able to most of the non essential Microsoft code. I added the images, added a hyperlinked table of contents, and saved the file and the images as a .zip archive.
Amazon then asks you to add metadata–other editions, subject classifications–before you upload the .zip file. You upload it, preview it, then you can set the pricing. I’ve gotten to “set the pricing” and I’m not sure I want to take the final step of publishing it to Amazon.
All thoughts welcome.
- although not really much of one–the hardcover can apparently be had used for as little as 44 cents! This would seem to render the whole question “academic.” ↩