(This item originally appeared at Forbes.com on March 13, 2014.)
Books cost money to buy because they cost money to make. Everything flows from this. Or, it used to. Now, everything is different.
The book publishing world is radically changed from even three years ago. My first book, Gold: the Once and Future Money (2007), was picked up by a major business publisher, John Wiley, and eventually was translated into four foreign languages, also by major foreign book publishers. It sold well for a book of its type, and is now in its fourth English-language printing.
Along the way, a Kindle version appeared (I’m not responsible for these things), priced a little lower than the print version.
Except for a few banner projects — I use Hillary Clinton’s autobiography as one potential example — you don’t get much of anything in the way of marketing by a book publisher. There just isn’t enough money in it to justify the expense. You used to get access to physical bookstores, which is more irrelevant by the week.
So, you are on your own — even with a major publisher.
For my second book, Gold: the Monetary Polaris, I decided to go with Amazon’s Createspace publishing platform. This gives me total control of the contents, and the royalties per book are several multiples higher. It is still available for physical bookstores to adopt, if they choose to, with Createspace handling all the logistics. It’s all upside, and no downside that I can see (and I would know).
Even so, this is not a money-making exercise. Pretty much any money-making idea you can think of, including picking up old beer cans for recycling, pays better than writing books about the details of Classical currency management.
There was a lot of work involved. It would be nice to be compensated for it somehow. It would also be nice to fly to the moon by flapping my arms. I got over it.
That being the case, why was I doing this at all? Of course, it is because I want to make available these ideas and knowledge.
It occurred to me that having 50,000 people download the free eBook from a website – in terms of the propagation of ideas and understanding — is not much different than having 50,000 people buy the book in printed format. Maybe better. Certainly easier and more likely.
If making knowledge and ideas available is the goal, then charging any price at all is an impediment. There’s a big difference between free and even $0.99.
This is especially true considering that many of my potential readers are not in the United States at all. If they were to buy a physical book from Amazon, they might have to pay twenty or thirty dollars for shipping, and wait several weeks. I want to reach people in Africa, the Middle East, India, South America, and Central Asia — the people who are already saying today that they are ready to give up on Mercantilist funny money and adopt a Classical strategy, including, ultimately, a gold-based currency.
I said at a recent talk that the place to produce the first viable gold-based currency of the new monetary era might be Nepal. Nepal has a tradition of gold- and silver-based money, as do all people everywhere, and they might be ready to go.
It might be the fertile field where these ideas can naturally take root and blossom. They might be eager to do –today! — what Janet Yellen and the U.S. Congress are extremely unlikely to do.
This was also the case for the Flat Tax idea, as promoted by Steve Forbes for his presidential campaigns. It got no real political traction in the U.S., but blossomed throughout Eastern Europe, and even such places as Mongolia and the Seychelles Islands. Who could have guessed that?
If that’s the case, then how would people in Nepal read the book? What about people in Uzbekistan, or Moldova, or Nicaragua, or Mozambique, or the Solomon Islands?
All indications pointed to free.
Once something is overtly non-profit, people can distribute it as they see fit. They could stick it in an email attachment and send it to their friends. They can make it available on their own website. They can even make high-volume print versions, in places where people don’t have computers and tablets.
My hope is that some people will be inspired enough to undertake a high-quality translation into their native language. Once you are doing things for the good of others, without expectation of benefit, then others can be inspired to do the same.
I would like to see this book available in a half-dozen languages, again in free eBook format. It could spread throughout the Spanish, French or Chinese-speaking world, in a frictionless, costless way.
I decided that a .pdf with a 5×7 inch page size (a standard trade paperback book size) would be the best format for release. Yes, I can do Kindle and ePub versions, but things are moving away from dedicated readers and towards all-purpose tablets. The .pdf format looks great on a tablet, especially if the page size isn’t too big. This is especially true for books, like this one, with a lot of tables and charts. Everyone knows how to use .pdf. Plus, you can easily email and print .pdf files — in short, do all the things that the .mobi and .epub formats are designed to prevent you from doing easily, so that you have to pay money to the eBook publishers.
Of course, some people will think that a book that is available for free must not have much value. We are accustomed to the idea that a book that costs money has been through the selection process inherent in the publishing business, and is thus worth our time.
But, those ideas are remnants of the old book publishing business. That world is disappearing rapidly, and in any case is somewhat irrelevant for my purposes.
In time, people’s attitudes will reflect the realities of the new world of book creation. A good book is a good book, whatever the price and whatever the format.