Jumping fences with our online subscription novel

June 3rd, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 3 comments § permalink

The chapters have been written, all have been uploaded, and Fences, our first online subscription novel, is now published and available as an ebook (on Amazon, AllRomance, Kobo and our website).

What did we learn?

We learnt that experimenting is great fun, a lot of work, more time consuming than we’d imagined, and that people are generous and supportive (there’s always an exception).

Fences for subscribers websiteWe used Pressbooks™ because it is a simple web-based book production system for presenting long-form narrative online, has a commenting system, has the facility to sign up subscribers, and produces valid epubs. These points were key. Although Pressbooks isn’t currently set up for the subscription model I wanted, the basic infrastructure gave me sufficient leeway to create an ecommerce model that would work for us. Hugh McGuire was, as always, at the ready to help out with tech issues to do with activating subscribers (an area outside of our direct control, and handled by Pressbooks).

The other important part was that because this was our own publishing venture, I was free to experiment. The only guarantees we needed in order to proceed were that we could deliver what we promised and that payments were secure. A few subscribers had hiccups related to receiving activation emails for the subscriber site, and some struggled with downloading the final zipped ebook files, but in general things worked pretty seamlessly, with the ecommerce part working perfectly. I’ve become friends with quite a few subscribers in the process too.

The other key was to have an author who not only understands the online world, but for whom writing online to an actively participating audience is the norm. We were thus very fortunate to have Laura Bontrager writing for us. She is a very good writer, widely read, an extremely warm-hearted person, very respectful towards all the subscribers, and much loved by her fans.

The numbers

Almost half of the subscribers donated more than the $5 required to receive an ebook in the end, many of those donated double than that, and only a handful of people donated less than $2. Most subscribers seemed to like the idea of supporting a writer’s work and efforts, and really did embrace the idea of being a patron of the arts. Let me also make clear that for this particular project, Laura is earning the lion’s share. We will revisit the contract for Laura’s next book, but our intention is always to treat our partnership with our authors as exactly that: a collaborative effort with the royalty reflecting that.

It was great having access to Google Analytics for the various sites (including our own website) and that gave us a good indication of interest. Clearly there was a spike on the first day, and until Google blocked our bulk emails, we got a similar spike every day when we emailed the update regarding the latest chapter. (We will be using something like MailChimp for bulk emails next time.) We got similar traction with our daily reminder tweet. (I’m not sure how our usual followers felt about these tweets as they are used to getting tweets from us about digital publishing.)

What’s next

We will be meeting with Hugh to discuss everything in more detail and to see how we can work together to ensure a seamless subscription service, particularly regarding activation of subscribers. We’ll also simplify things for ourselves in terms of maintaining the Pressbooks sites, and we’ll probably continue with the same ecommerce system, which worked well.

While we assume that most readers buying the files from our website (which provides Laura and us with greater revenue) will have the technical nous to install the relevant ereading apps etc, we may need to provide some generic instructions for subscribers about downloading files to the different platforms, how to install Kindle and iBook apps, ADE, etc.

We’ll also look at ways we can engage with our readers even more.

It has been a great couple of months, we’ve had a ball, and I can’t thank Laura, the subscribers, all our readers, and Hugh, enough. We’ll keep the subscriber site open for a while to new readers. Existing subscribers will continue to have access to it for the foreseeable future.

Improvising Madly – the musical

May 11th, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § permalink

Here is a link to a flash file of the improvised (you’ll see what I mean) musical version of Improvising Madly: Jazz, Agile workflows and Integrated Digital Strategy, the presentation I gave with Brian O’Leary at the recent Publisher’s Forum in Berlin. The music is ‘Take the A Train’, played by the great Duke Ellington and his band.

The presentation illustrates some of the points I made in my article, Let’s Improvise!, published in Publishing Perspectives.


Duke Ellington


Publishers’ Forum, Berlin, revisited

May 2nd, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 1 comment § permalink

I attended the recent Publishers’ Forum in Berlin for the first time this year.

axica interior

axica conference and convention centre, designed by Frank Gehry

I was impressed with how the presentations intelligently intersected in interesting and relevant ways. The sense at the end of the two days was of a dynamic network of intelligent content, created by people with vision and energy.

Helmut von Berg of Klopotek was an indefatigable host and organiser and was as passionate about the subject as any of the speakers. It is commitment of this sort that will lead the way.

Brian O’Leary’s keynote address ‘Context First Revisited’ was as relevant today as when he first presented it in 2010, although now the word ‘container’ is simply a term we all use when talking about books. That his terminology has become part of the currency of digital publishing demonstrates how important his insights were and still are for us all.

All the sessions I attended were worthwhile and had something to offer. (As an English speaker, the German sessions were not an option, but looked very good too.) One of the English sessions that made a particular impression on me was that by Gregor Wolf and Christian Kohl, ‘Integrating deGruyter.com e-commerce with the back office software’. This is a side of publishing that most prefer not to think about; social media for instance is so much more exciting to talk about (and yes, as important). But it is precisely this kind of work behind the scenes that is crucial to the success of digital publishing. The presentation was focused, to the point, and the system they described seemed deceptively simple: a mark of true elegance, thorough analysis and hard work.

I want to thank my co-presenters, Ingrid Goldstein, and Brian O’Leary, who are both a joy to work with. I was privileged to have had this opportunity to present with them.

This conference gave me renewed confidence in the future of ‘book’ publishing, whatever the ‘book’ may look like.

Note: This post also appears on the Forum website.

‘Fences’ breaks new ground for the web-based PressBooks™ publishing platform

April 13th, 2012 by Zirk van den Berg § 3 comments § permalink

Fences, the debut novel by popular fanfiction author Laura Bontrager, will be the first novel on the PressBooks™ platform to be serialized for online reading on a subscription basis.

Laura’s readers are used to reading her fanfiction online, with new instalments appearing regularly. We’re going to continue in the same vein, making her novel available to readers in daily instalments over the course of a month or so. » Read the rest of this entry «

Content Strategy: Master or Meta?

February 16th, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § permalink

I was musing again about Content Strategy and it occurred to me that there are two ways of looking at it.

There is what I would call the ‘Master’ view: the all-seeing eye that knows everything, plans everything and creates clear structures to realise a certain vision. This is most appropriate to the ‘Enterprise’ model, particularly for industries where compliance is incredibly important or for highly structured modular content.

The other is the ‘Darwinian’ view: life develops largely through chance, circumstance, and constraints, making use of minute building blocks (DNA) to combine and create new life forms in endless and unforeseeable combinations. And, likewise, the binary nature of digital (so simple that it’s either on or it’s off) makes content uncontainable, unconstrainable and endlessly combinable. This paradox is both a threat and an opportunity.

» Read the rest of this entry «

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