UnGlue.it Launches New Crowdfunding Model to Sell eBooks

Unglue.it may be logo[1]the most novel ebook retail idea of the past few years, but they haven't had much success since they launched last year.They have only funded the release of 4 ebooks via crowdfunding, and as a result of the general lack of interest from authors, publishers, and readers (the successful campaigns averaged around 300 contributors each) Unglue.it has gone back to the drawing board.

If you're just tuning in,  Unglue.it got a lot of attention last year because they weren't trying to sell ebooks. Instead their goal was to set ebooks free. They had hoped to use crowdfunding in order to pay participating authors to release ebooks under a creative commons license so all could benefit.

Last week they announced a new crowdfunding model called Unglue.it 2.0. Rather than ask readers to pledge funds with the hope that an ebook would later be released under a creative commons license, Unglue.it is now using each campaign to sell the ebook to supporters, who get an ebook that is only marked by digital watermarks and no other DRM. And once enough copies are sold, the ebook is released under a creative commons license.

This differs from the original Unglue.it model, which was based in part on the assumption that many campaigns would be used to fund the digitization costs for an out of print paper book. As Eric Hellman explained back in May 2013, that didn't turn out to be the case:

One assumption we made at the start turned out to be wrong. We thought that lots of campaigns would be aimed at funding the conversion of print books to digital. But two years later, the conversion costs have come way down, and most books that can be converted to digital are being converted to digital. The ones remaining have problems- either they have really difficult rights issues or they’re just not worth converting.

Because of that assumption, our campaigns haven’t made use of the most powerful tool that an ebook-crowdfunding campaign can have- the ebook itself. So we’ve been talking to publishers and authors about a new type of campaign, which uses the book itself as the fundraising tool. We’ve been calling this “buy-to-unglue” but we’re not sure that’s the best way to describe it. The basic idea is that after N copies of the book are sold, an unglued edition is released.

Unglue.it is testing the new model with a new campaign for the public domain title Flatland. If this works out they plan to offer this sales model to all authors and publishers.

I wish them luck, but I don't expect to see very many content creators signing up.

Not to dispute Eric Hellman's goals, but it is my understanding that most authors and publishers see an ebook (or even an unfinished manuscript) as a capital investment. They have sunk time and money into it and they (quite understandably) want to generate a long term income from their work.

That means selling a lot of copies, and continuing to sell copies. Cutting off the revenue stream doesn't seem to accomplish that goal, and that's why I don't think very many will be interested in releasing the ebook under a CC license.

While giving an ebook away under a CC license doesn't preclude selling the ebook elsewhere (Baen Books gives ebooks away while also selling them), having a CC-licensed ebook floating around could cut into the revenue. Amazon, for example, doesn't like selling ebooks that use content that is freely available on the web. If their bots find a legally free copy of an ebook on a website that matches an ebook sold in the Kindle Store, the bots might set the price of that kindle ebook to nothing. They might also simply pull the listing for that Kindle ebook.

I don't see this as ever being more than a niche market, but I could be wrong. If you are an author, would you use Unglue.it to fund an ebook?

About Nate Hoffelder (11579 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

3 Comments on UnGlue.it Launches New Crowdfunding Model to Sell eBooks

  1. Definitely! Maybe some writers don’t want to think in a “business model” way, at least I don’t. Most of us just want to be read, nevermind the big money. Ask Doctorow. 🙂

    • Cory Doctorow can afford to give away his ebooks because he has a contract with a major publisher. He also has a high traffic blog in which to promote his books. The average indie author has neither of these.

      Also, while I’m sure authors want to be read just as much as they want to be paid, I’m not convinced that very many will want to give up all future income on a book. The only times I have seen that (with rare exceptions) is when the first book in a series is given away in order to promote the later books.

  2. Two points of clarification.

    1. We haven’t launched Buy-to-unglue yet. We have a philosophy of testing everything thoroughly, with real users if possible, before doing a real launch. For example, during the past few days, one of our ungluers helped us find a problem with unicode names in our personalized license files. We’re super-excited about this, but unfortunately, it’s going to take some time to get all the pieces in place for the LAUNCH of the next phase of Unglue.it.

    2. The use of the term “encumbered” to describe our watermarked files is facile. The watermarking is intended to make the user’s license indelible, including the delayed creative commons aspect of it. There are no legal uses of the files that are in any way inhibited by the watermarking, and in fact the watermarking benefits the user by proving the license conveyance.

    But thank you, Nate, for presenting this picture of our work-in-progress, and, in general, for caring about innovation in our industry!

2 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Unglue.it o cuando los lectores se poner a vender ebooks
  2. new booklooks for you! 11/19/2013 | bookollekt

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