Welcome to AskALLi, the self-publishing advice broadcast from the Alliance of Independent Authors. This week it's our monthly IndieVoices' self-publishing salon with interviews conducted by ALLi Managing Editor Howard Lovy and updates from News Editor Dan Holloway.
This Month's IndieVoices
- A brief tour of a cryptocurrency mining operation, and its owner's mission to fix the internet through a better-connected, decentralized world, one where transactions will be secure. It will be just about every industry, including publishing, that will be built atop the blockchain.
- A commentary by Howard on the problems with giant middlemen like Google or Amazon coming between author and reader
- An interview with ALLi Director and Founder Orna Ross on Self-Publishing 3.0 and how authors can learn about it now.
- An interview with ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway who has some advice on how authors can be vigilant against corporate control over blockchain.
- Dan updates us on the news, including banditry at Amazon, the London Book Fair, and Google's “Talk to Books” tool. Dan also promises to work on a poem to read in the next episode.
Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Center: https://selfpublishingadvice.org, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need.
And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.
Now, go write and publish!
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About the Hosts
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last five years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a “book doctor” to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance business and technology writer. Find Howard on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.
Read the Transcripts
Howard Lovy: Recently amid the sounds of computer processing, Michigan Entrepreneur, Eric Bravick gave me a tour of his mining operation. But mining is a kind of universally accepted metaphor. What all those computer processors are doing is solving complex mathematical problems. Solve a problem and his company, Electric Forge, earns a block on a worldwide chain of blocks. But most importantly Bravick is on a mission to fix the Internet.
Eric Bravick: This is, in a way, the original Internet founders’ dream realizing itself. So as we built the Internet over the years, many of the things that we were trying to decentralize ended up back centralized again and it was a big disappointment for many of us. So now we get a chance to fix that. In 2018, we get a chance to decentralize value for the first time.
Howard Lovy: The result of all this exponential increase in computation and massive parallel processing will be a better-connected, decentralized world. One, where individual transactions are secure. It won't just be bitcoin built a top of blockchain, it will be just about every industry and that's where independent publishers can benefit. Hi and welcome to Indie Voices. I'm Howard Lovy, managing editor, at the Alliance Of Independent Authors. Today's show is all about what we call self-publishing 3.0 and how authors can take advantage of technologies like the blockchain to finally drop the middle man and take charge of their work, who owns it and how they get paid for it. We outlined it all in a white paper. We released at the London Book Fair called authors in the blockchain to where to create our centered business model, but you can download on our website alliance independent authors that don't work, but we're going to explain it all the next half hour or so.
So before I talked to my first guest, let me begin with a story. Back in 2011, I helped launch a magazine that covered a very niche topic, nanotechnology. We called it Small Times, get it? well We built a traditional magazine with a traditional website and then in a traditional way began soliciting adds to make revenue. It was going slowly. at the same time I saw something else happening along the outskirts of journalism that was attracting a great number of readers. blogs, so in the summer of 2003, I launched my own nanotech blog. Immediately and I mean immediately as in the next day, my blog instantly became more widely read than the magazine itself, so I kept it up for a few years, but eventually I dropped it in 2009.
The problem was this, the year it was launched, 2003 was the year Google bought the platform I was using, Blogger, so really well. I felt like I was being a one man show, attracting all kinds of readers at attention. The only one who financially benefited was Google and that's the problem in general with self-publishing today. The analogy is imperfect, self-publishers could make money, but they're fooling themselves if they think that they're working for themselves. Usually they're working for Amazon. Now at last I can introduce my first guest, our fearless leader, Orna Ross, founder and director of the Alliance of independent authors who is launching what we're calling self-publishing 3.0. And hopefully the answer to this problem will come to Indie voices, Orna.
Orna Ross: Thanks Howard. Thanks for having me on and Indie voices. And thanks for doing it.
Howard Lovy: So, before we talk about self-publishing 3.0. let's take this chronologically and explain what 1.0 and 2.0 were.
Orna Ross: 1.0 was desktop publishing. So before that making a book required very big, very expensive machinery, which only corporate publishers, people who were in the publishing business could afford. with desktop publishing and print on demand. it became possible for authors to actually invest in printing a book. And so, they took to it in great numbers actually. so that was 1.0 and then 2.0 was in 2007, 2008 when eBooks came on along together with, online retail stores. And of course that completely opened everything up because books now became extremely cheap to produce in terms of when I say produce, I just mean get to market that you still needed to invest in editorial and design both the big costs of printing and reproduction were taken out of it.
Howard Lovy: 3.0 is what's coming next? Or just coming into being now?
Orna Ross: Its emerging. I think and I, I think it's a measure of 10 years of 2.0 to be honest, and the years before that with Pod, but particularly since the eBook digital revolution and the author confidence that's just you know expanded so much sense. So the old way, the traditional way, which of course is still very much with us. We have three thriving industries in publishing now, trade publishing, self-publishing services and authors publishing where the author has commissioned the editors, designers and so on.
Howard Lovy: But is this really for every writer? Many writers don't want it to be business people at all and they're perfectly happy writing for a living and letting somebody else worry about the business aspect. Or are those days really over?
Orna Ross: well, this is where I was trying to draw a distinction really between the necessity to market your book and use social media and other available platforms to do that in order to set up an author platform and become a recognizable brand and as you say, whether you are trade published or whether you are self-publishing, you're expected to do that now, but that's not quite the same thing as running a business and it's only self-publishing authors who can set up a viable business. You can't set up a viable business if somebody else is taking in the money and so trade published authors are not in business as such. The indie author community is a very broad church. There are people at all sorts of the ends of the spectrum but what I would say is you have a better chance of making a career as a writer. If you take this stuff on board, is that If you do not, that's thoughts without a doubt. I would, I would probably say from observation that actually if you're not willing to take this stuff on board and to understand who your reader is, to, to really connect in that way, you're probably heading for failure.
Howard Lovy: So that's a good segue into talking about blockchain and this is actually all related to blockchain because that's sort of enables creative people like us to become business people because it tracks what we're doing and hopefully ensure that we get paid for it. But you know, it already has become so much of a tech Buzzword, blockchain now that educes some eye rolls as the realm of con artists or criminals and value fluctuations of cryptocurrencies. So could you explain how it works for Authors and differentiate between cryptocurrency and blockchain?
Orna Ross: Definitely, yeah. Blockchain is just the technology that allows the cryptocurrency to, to happen and to function and at the moment is attracting far more interest in the world of finance in the world books. But we wanted to look at what it might mean for books. And just before I get onto blockchain, I want to explain that self-publishing 3.0 is about direct sales to the reader. It's about making the direct where there is no intermediary, no middle man or a woman, just an online pay button, and in that sense it's with us already. People created the possibility for every writer. But of course, just having a PayPal button on your website does not mean that you have a thriving business and it's really understanding how one reaches one's reader and also brings in things like subscriptions on Patreon and you know, and other kinds of patronage and various other business models. Really understanding the various business models that are available to you as a writer and deciding which one you want to go with. So self-publishing 3.0 and is already there as a possibility. Only a tiny of, from my observation, just a tiny fraction of authors are actually in this category. And you know, only most authors who are doing well and have generated a good income direct sales makes up only a small proportion of their business. There are a few who are purely direct sale of bulk sales, special sales, and back of the room Sales. And their businesses is 100 percent direct. Both they are, as I said, a tiny minority. So what blockchain does is it just changes everything because blockchain takes away the bank, it takes away the whole sale or the publisher, the distributor and the book store, and essentially leaves a through smart contracts fast, make it clear what is for sale and the terms and then a digital wallet and author's Digital Wallet, which, reflects those, those agreed terms between those two things. The fact that the blockchain creates a record that is indelible, it doesn't change and open and transparent and managed by the technology. So it takes away in the old, you know, in our current financial system, it only operates because you've got trust agents in place. So banks are in publishing agents or publishers. So what happens with blockchain, the technology allows us to take those trust agents out of the transaction. The transaction is verified by the technology itself, and that is revolutionary in lots of ways for authors. One of the things that does is it makes copywriting viable, so you know, who has written it because the chain is there and the first person who has actually put it out there is the copyright holder at the moment. It can be very difficult to say who was the rights holder it doesn't by any means do away with piracy, but it does do away with drm, which has been a big nightmare in publishing and so on and so forth. There are lots and lots of layers and lots of ways in which it facilitates a clearer chain. But for me, one of the most interesting things about it is this idea of the author smart wallets. That would be the point of transaction. Everybody can be paid simultaneously. So if you're using a service to take your book to the reader, if you know, you could even have your editor paid at that point in the chain. And the author’s smart wallet would be the point of payment, so this would need the services to agree to that, but I think there's a logical financial expression of copyright law.
Howard Lovy: Whereas right now, if, say you're in Amazons KDP program, Amazon monthly tell you how many books you've sold a, it'll take a cut off the top and maybe a month, a month and a half later, you’ll get something in your PayPal account. But this way, everybody gets paid right away at the point of transaction.
Orna Ross: Exactly on the author wallet is the first point, you know, the author’s at the head of the payment chain up there with everybody else at a minimum rather than at the end of the payment chain. So Amazon is, is, is, you know, brilliant terms and conditions when compared to traditional publishing, which is so cumbersome. And every six months you get paid if you're lucky and nobody understands their royalty statement. It's done on advance as a percentages and it's extremely complex, very slow. And everybody has been paid, you know, the editor, the designer, the publisher, the wholesaler. the retailer, everybody's paid. The author gets paid last, then gets paid least. And the most important thing I think that we need to kind of realize and I think artists can really help to direct society generally around this idea of at the moment and We saw with, with Facebook in the last while and our date, we're giving away our data and data is data is another word for words and pictures and images, you know, content. It's also called information. It's also called, but essentially, it's the kind of stuff that's protected by copyright law. and you know, we need, as we move towards the Internet of things and the various changes are coming down the track, people need to get an understanding that their data has value. If somebody is making money from it. So, everybody, you know, these big corporations that have been hoovering up our data, it has value to them and Therefore, you should come back down to us through micropayments. And again, this becomes very possible block chain, very cumbersome without it. And so I think all of his have a role to play here where we, you know, we understand copyright law. Our living actually rests on it. It's not challenged very often, but it is challenged every so often in very important cases and in very important ways. And so I think, you know, we have a role to play in helping people to own everybody else to understand that they too, because not just businesses in the publishing business now, but in a way every individual is also in the publishing business now. And so it's, it's a very interesting time in that regard. And as I said, I think, I think writers have a very important role to play here
Howard Lovy: and it's affecting not only writers but anybody. If you've done a Facebook post. that's information that was taken from you and that is being used for reasons that you may not agree with.
Orna Ross: Yeah, we're freely giving it. And I think this is, this is the thing we're giving it because we don't understand that it has value. And also we talk to, and you know, Silicon Valley has talked very persuasively about free circulation of information and so on, but you know, that concept and the concept of artificial intelligence, I think very deliberately underplays the fact that behind every piece of invert commas, data is a functioning human being, a human imagination.
Howard Lovy: I mean, I'm tired of the. The old mantra that information wants to be free and I think that was over the years has been misunderstood as whatever you write. I'm just going to take. So, anyway, I wish you can talk more about this, but people can learn more about blockchain for authors by downloading our new white paper on the website. So, what's the next phase now in terms of what the alliance is doing to prepare for self-publishing 3.0 and what should authors be doing right now?
Orna Ross: Yes, we have. We've put a number of recommendations at the end of our white paper. And essentially I think it begins with a mindset shift. I do believe it begins with understanding that their, you know, their prince charming, Prince publishing, charming isn't probably coming and you're in charge of your own livelihood and we have been traditionally very bad at looking after ourselves in that way. And if we're talking about being independent, author is the first sign of independence is the ability to earn your own living and we need to in a sense, just take hold of what that means and really go there. So, you know, there may be a point where you say, no, it's not for me and then you're better to drop it. but I think we're kind of turning away from the need to do business mindlessly without considering it without understanding what's at stake without really engaging with it. So I think that's the first step is, is really seeing what your definition of success is, what you want out of this and how, how it might happen. And then it's about setting up for direct sales. It's about getting to understand your reader. And what They want from you what your value is, what you're bringing, why anybody should spend money on your writing, and there's a lot of writing out there. What's. What's your thing? What's your shtick as it? Where are you in the information business or even the entertainment business? Are you in the inspiration business? It will be one of those three that you made wrong. Ideally all three will be in there, so to some degree, but which of those is the most important for you? And then there are various other recommendations, but, but again, setting up for business, getting a decent website, knowing clearly what you want somebody to do when they come onto your website, what service are you actually putting out there and can you set your services up or your projects or your products or whatever it is that you're bringing to the marketplace. Can you set them up in a way that they can be easily accessed, downloaded with ease, you know, all of that kind of thing. So in a sense, setting up your shop.
Howard Lovy: So you think of technology as a tool that works for you rather than you working for it.
Orna Ross: Take hold of this. This is, it's just such a huge opportunity and it's, you know, we need to Kind of just grab hold of that opportunity and see what it means for us and then do it your way. It's it. This isn't about doing what everybody else does. It's about working out what success looks like for you and how you set that up.
Howard Lovy: Thank you very much, Orna. I appreciate you appearing on indie voices.
Orna Ross: Thanks Howard. Thank you.
Howard Lovy: Thanks. Bye. Now I want to introduce my cohost, Dan Holloway, who is such a multitalented individual. I never know how to describe him. He's an author, a poet, a performance artist today though, I'm going to call him a blockchain and internet 3.0 specialist. Since he coauthored the alliances, new white paper authors and the blockchain and introduced it to an audience at the London Book Fair. Welcome back to indie voices, Dan.
Dan Holloway: Hi. Thank you.
Howard Lovy: so, you wrote in the white paper that, and I'm, I'm paraphrasing, something funny happened along the way to the internet utopia, the Internet was supposed to have created an army of David’s empowering bottom up democracy and obviously that didn't happen and we're all working for Goliaths in one way or another, as the book world of course is no exception. Does that pretty much what happened?
Dan Holloway: I think so. I think the problem is that, that we forgot that we could do both. I don't want to take too much of the blame at the door of the authors, but to some extent we have to take responsibility for the fact that the little communities we were building along the way somewhere got a little bit lost and we ended up, we ended up buying into some big corporate dream that we needn’t have done.
Howard Lovy: We got lazy, and then decided it's better for Amazon to do all that business stuff for us.
Dan Holloway: Whether we got lazy or whether we got greedy or whether we just thought that that was the only way or we thought that we couldn't build something of our own. So we've got a little bit scared by, by what was happening,
Howard Lovy: right, right. Well now, with this blockchain technology, which is not very new but relatively new, now we can obviously maybe build this world that we tried to create.
Dan Holloway: Yes, it's something that works perfectly for disintermediation, for getting rid of trusted third parties, getting rid of anyone who stands in the middle of things. So I think we have another opportunity to build something together as writers, not just as writers, but as creatives as a whole and as audiences that doesn't need anyone else to be involved in it and doesn't need anything corporate to be involved in it. And obviously corporates will come along. Someone will build something on this that will be big, but I think we need to remember we don't have to go along with it. We can still, we can still have our own community as well.
Howard Lovy: Well that's a warning that a, that's included in our white paper. Let me quote from it, a year out, just as the Internet through up Amazon to take away It's peer to peer marketplace focus without us really noticing. So blockchain will likely throw really useful enabling platforms that will take a cut in return for the service authors must educate themselves to understand what's at stake. So is this likely to happen? It? How can we prevent this nightmare?
Dan Holloway: Oh, I don't think we can prevent it, but as I say, what we can do is we can make sure that we don't accept that that's the only way it has to be. We don't have to jump on board. We can, we can build our own thing alongside it. That's one of the great things about blockchain is one of the great things about the Internet and we don't actually need these big corporations.
Howard Lovy: So you, write in, in the white paper that you're real hope is the creation of a real ecosystem alongside with other whatever else, emerges and not just a bigger slice of the royalties. So what do you mean by a real ecosystem? Are you talking about what we're building at the INDIE author alliance?
Dan Holloway: Yeah. And an ecosystem that puts authors and readers together, people who have a common interest and common values based around cultural interests, that kind of thing that you get in fan. That sounds awful to take fanfiction as being where the cutting edge is, but in a way it, it, it often is. Oh, it is. Yeah. Those sorts of communities. There's some stuff you find on fanfiction.net. The stuff you use to find on the, on the bulletin boards, as I say, those are the places where the community readiness to happen.
Howard Lovy: A lot of that has moved over to social media. Maybe where authors have a direct link with readers, but also by ecosystem. There's also a larger ecosystem in terms of how people get paid. And that's something that blockchain and then what we're calling it 3.0 might enable.
Dan Holloway: Yes. Yes.
Howard Lovy: At the London Book Fair, you, you help present the white paper and on blockchain and Internet. 3.0. what kinds of questions from authors did you get?
Dan Holloway: There are a surprising number of authors who seemed all right. Who, who knew, who already knew about blockchain, which is really good. We did get very few of the oh what is this.
Howard Lovy: There's some skepticism and maybe even some eye rolling among people when they think about blockchain, they think about crypto currency and scams and snake oil and, and I think maybe creative types like us might think, you know, I don't want to have to have anything to do with this. Do you think there's a lot there? There's some reluctance there?
Dan Holloway: no, that, that's something we didn't come across, which, which again surprised me. I think that there are people saying, well isn't Amazon just going to build a block chain, but I think that's true. And they could, they could deliver some of their services better, but the whole point of what makes blockchain work and be a really fabulous disruptive technology is that it, it relies on consensus that the whole way the distributed ledger works is it relies on consensus to verify transactions. and it relies of consensus of multiple agencies. And if you have one company coming in and owning the majority of the machines on the network, then you get rid of that. So to some extent it should be proof against a company coming in and just taking it over and building their own blockchain because that wouldn't be, it will be the technology, but it wouldn't be the sole blockchain.
Howard Lovy: Right, right. So you mentioned the technology isn't quite there yet. What, what has to happen for this to really be a mainstream among authors?
Dan Holloway: It just has to be quicker. It has to be able to process more and be capable of processing more.
Howard Lovy: and that creates a whole new set of problems that's kind of beyond the scope of this podcast. But the, the, they eat up a lot of energy and some of these server farms in China are just burning a lot of coal to get stuff going.
Dan Holloway: There are lots of issues. I, my personal hope is that that quantum computing will solve a lot of that.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, quantum computing, that just blows my mind. We should have a separate technology podcast and we can get into, we can just geek out and get into some of that. But for now, let's segue into the news. so, speaking of that giant company, Amazon, it seems like we're always talking about Amazon. And what about your brother? What's going on? It sounds like the old American west over there with scammers and bandits and copy and paste. Here's what's happening.
Dan Holloway: Amazon has had a really interesting few weeks. They got themselves into trouble with [inaudible]. There's obviously at the start because suddenly a lot of people found themselves with their ranks stripped out and they didn't know why. it seems, I, I spoke to one of the senior people at KDP, at the London Book Fair and that person assured me that it was quote a glitch so that there wasn't a programmatic campaign against authors of adult content as it's been speculated in some of the forums and as indeed Amazon's internally or emails to these authors seem to suggest. But yes, it seems. And the two other big stories that one is that create space seems to have been, seems to have been laid open by scammers and hackers, which is slightly worrying.
Howard Lovy: What did that involve? If they made it too easy for people to just cut and paste?
Dan Holloway: I think yes, I mean there, there are two issues there. There's book cloning which looks like it's happening, which is really quite worrying, so people creating sort of mirror pages for authors and books, so you think you're buying something and you're actually not. you're buying a clone of it and that there's also just been playing what again, people are saying is just accounts being hacked and the payment details being changed so there are two things going on which may or may not be linked and then the slightly more positive news to get them there do is it looks like they're finally tackling the book stuffing with kindle unlimited or they're taking some action against some of the biggest culprits, so they. A couple of weeks ago they sued the one, one of the big. It was a guy who had basically set up publishing companies to, you know the, the book stuffing scan where they, where you send someone to the end of the book.
Howard Lovy: Oh right, right, right.
Dan Holloway: You using dodgy links, you send them to the end of the book and sending the kindle unlimited program. It looks as though someone who has the whole actually done is click to link. It looks as though they've read the whole book.
Howard Lovy: I'm, I'm shocked that people would do that and not actually read the entire book. Oh my God, that's awful.
Dan Holloway: Yes. So I mean they, they've been really naive in the way they've set up the kindle unlimited program. they opened themselves wide to that kind of thing and thought either, they didn't think that anyone would do it or they didn't notice and then a load of people did do it and it's taken them several years, but they now seeing finally to have caught on, although they're still destined to using the sledgehammers to crack walnuts some extent budget by disbanding the whole chains of books in the hope that they'll pick the scanners up along the way.
Howard Lovy: So let's move on to the other giant, Google. It sounds like where you get another step along the way to begging our robot overlords for information.
Dan Holloway: Yeah.
Howard Lovy: Google's talk to books lets you ask Google things like, oh, I don't know what the hell really happens in James Joyce's Ulysses or something like that. so, tell, tell us what's with that’s all about.
Dan Holloway: it's, it's voice first software that recommends books to you and it recommends books to you based on, not on Metadata but what was actually in the book. So. So yeah, it, it actually analyzes the content of all the books in order to find the book that best fits what you're looking for. If you ask it a clever question. So if you were to ask it can, can you recommend me some really exciting ghost stories than it will not just look at the things that have been tagged as ghost story or connected to ghost story. It will actually look through the content to find the best fit for your question. So it's meant to uncover. It's meant to uncover small books that you might not have heard of and that they might not have done that metadata right. But they deserve to be found. So.
Howard Lovy: So what does this mean for indie authors though, are a lot of indie authors sort of in the Google database to begin with?
Dan Holloway: There is a visibility premium, or something like for published books traditionally published books, so, so you're automatically at a disadvantage. It's if you're self-published. So whilst it looks at the content of the books, it doesn't necessarily look at the content of all books in the same way.
Howard Lovy: Oh, I see. Oh that's interesting.
Dan Holloway: That's very interesting.
Howard Lovy: So we're still looking at this this closed shrinking world. when there's this a giant, a growing indie author community out there It shouldn't be searching.
Dan Holloway: There is. But then again, if you go back to our previous story, if it were really looking at all books equally, you can see someone coming along and just treating their whole book has made in all that Metadata. Right? Right. And, and just repeating the line, like in the shining it will be all work and no play makes jack a dull boy instead of that differently. it was a dark and stormy night on the haunted house on the hill repeated 100,000 times in the book and then it would always come up first if you're looking for a ghost story. Right, right. So, so I can see that, that, that you do need something that says not all books are equal because as soon as all the books are equal, the scammers come in and, and ruin it that way.
Howard Lovy: Interesting. So AI Isn't, isn't quite as, as, as smart as we as we give credit for. not yet anyway.
Dan Holloway: Not yet, it will be.
Howard Lovy: Well last month you read a poem to Stephen Hawking. So I expected another poem this month and so I'm a little bit disappointed. So maybe work on something for next month.
Dan Holloway: I will work on something for next month.
Howard Lovy: Yeah. Anyway, well thank you Dan. I appreciate your expertise and your time and let's continue to follow self-publishing 3.0 and the blockchain.
Dan Holloway: Brilliant. Thank you very much indeed.
Howard Lovy: Thank you.