Random Monday Thoughts

MCMMonday, June 29, 2009

Today is Monday, which means it's time for a brain dump. Prepare yourselves...

PDFs Suck

One of the chief benefits of using the Reader system is that I can actually track how people read things. When I was using PDFs as my sole source of readage, people would come by, snatch the file (sometimes without even seeing 1889.ca) and read it on their own time. While I really appreciate how convenient that is for some people, it does give me somewhat skewed statistics. For one, I don't think those direct downloads count on any stats outside my own logs, meaning I've essentially lost close to 9 million hits over the last 2 years. It's an odd situation when your Google Analytics graph shows minimal activity, but your download counter is off the charts. I like consistency, see.

But really, the coolest thing is seeing how people actually interact with the books. I've found, for instance, that people arriving at a Reader site tend to spend over 18 minutes reading. 92% make it to the end of the book (by which I mean the donation page). Interestingly, 42% donate when they get to the end, compared to 7% when I used PDFs. I'm not sure why, but it's probably to do with immediacy, and convenience. Unfortunately, not too many go back to read other books on the site. That's a function of my poor UI... it's not obvious there ARE other books. I'm trying to think of a way to get around that without putting ads everywhere. There's got to be a way.

One thing I think could be very cool about this system is the ability to track the specific reading habits for individual titles, and see what causes it. I'm starting to see all my books as works-in-progress (rather than finished products), so I'm not averse to switching things out when they're not performing well. For example: when reading Percy's Perch, 20% of people appear to go from page 11, back to page 10. And then they continue. I'm guessing there's something in the transition between the two pages that's confusing. It's the first real time break in the story, so that might be why. But it tells me there's a glitch in the text, and if I can refine it, I'll have happier readers. I really like this level of insight!

Physical Books Perplex Me

I am still not a full eBook convert. I like my papery stuff, and I feel strange intentionally avoiding it... but honestly, paper books are less and less relevant to what I'm doing. The time and effort needed to create one is rarely worth the effort, since I get most of my income through straight donations online. Part of it comes from a marketing/distribution failing... if the book's not in stores, it doesn't get seen, so it doesn't get bought. But I think some of it relates to pricing... if you see a book at $8.99, you think: "Is that really worth $8.99? Other similar books are the same price or cheaper, and they're put out by big publishers." You consider your purchase more, because you're trying to judge value based on imprecise terms.

Online, people read the book all the way through, decide if they like it, and can drop a tip in the jar. The base amount I use is $2, which is slightly more than the profit on most of my print books. Interestingly, less than 10% of donors use the $2 option. I can't be sure, but I suspect it's because they're responding to the perceived value of the book in the purest sense, rather than the value of the book in physical packaging. This connects to my earlier thoughts about the value of a song on iTunes... if a CD costs $9.99, but the manufacturing and distribution eat $4 of that, then a digital version should only cost $5.99, or $0.66 per song. We've become so attached to the notion of art-as-widget that we can't disassociate the underlying art from the delivery method. If you completely strip away the delivery method (as I have), people are left with the question: how much is this worth? And in the absence of any external influences, they tend to choose a better number than I'd otherwise get.

Which is all to say that I'm seriously considering ditching physical books for the next little while. It makes my operation cleaner and faster, and it's also something fun to try... writing for a new medium is very exciting! Chapters need to be leaner (900-1200 words get the best results), and punchier... Percy's Perch was created as a physical book first, and when converting it for the site, I realized a lot of things I could do better next time. Inline artwork rather than full page images, for one. The medium dictates the content, at least to some extent.

Now all I need to do is find a way to get myself on Kindle, and I'll be doin' fine...

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