Re: e-publishing fiction

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Mon Apr 10 2000 - 05:55:01 MDT

On Sun, Apr 09, 2000 at 01:56:04PM +1000, Damien Broderick wrote:
> I probably should have specified that the novel in question is a young
> adult sf book - resembling an early Heinlein YA book, to borrow the
> comparison Poul Anderson offered of our 1999 YA book, STUCK IN FAST FORWARD
> (only published in Australia, goddam it). Characters aged around 15/16. I
> don't know if this will help or hinder, given that plenty of net users must
> be that age themselves, and anyway I still enjoy reading Heinlein
> juveniles. But those kids might not have instant access to credit cards (or
> am I way out of date, so, like, this morning?).


A couple of thoughts:

1. Price it cheap. If it costs $2 to download, people are going to be less
   inclined to hold off buying it and hope for a bootleg copy. Also,
   at _that_ price-point anyone who doesn't pay probably wouldn't pay
   under any circumstances, and is therefore not really a lost sales
   opportunity. (In any event, you don't have the paper/printing/warehouse/-
   distribution overheads to contend with, so you can _afford_ to charge
   a bit less than the paper version.)

2. Don't encrypt/obfuscate it, but use steganography to track it and
   get it removed from web sites or warez sites. If it's HTML, embed
   some trackable strings in comments -- or better, in the whitespace
   between words. Then poll the web search engines regularly to look
   for those strings. Brand each download with an ID stamp specific to
   the customer. If it shows up on a website via Altavista, you can then
   identify the customer who leaked it. Put this in the license up front,
   and you'll be able to tell 'em, "this is unencrypted; you have a
   license to use it 'just like a book' (harking back to the old Borland
   license of the 1980's). You must _not_ put it on a file server. If you do,
   you owe me a $2 fee for every download and a flat $500 license fee, and
   I will send a debt collection agency after you."

3. This is probably going to work because the _real_ threat to you is
   people sticking the work on a file server or CD ROM, not people passing
   one copy to a buddy to read (which they do with your paper book anyway).

4. Credit card transactions over the net -- talk to me off-list. (I write
   systems to do this in Europe and can probably give you some pointers.)

-- Charlie

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