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?