Make a living from ebooks

Tim Dawson; Tony Rizzo

LFB Vice-Chair Fiona O'Cleirigh (standing) introduces Tim Dawson (seated), speaking on new funding models for journalism at an LFB event in 2012.

CAN JOURNALISTS make a living out of e-book publishing? NUJ vice-president Tim Dawson looked at some recent e-publishing models that work for authors at November's LFB meeting. (Other new models for funding journalism are catalogued at the newmodeljournalism.com blog, which Tim co-founded.)

The most dependable moneymakers, Tim reckons, are ebooks. There is an expectation among readers that they will pay for books and the move from paper to screen has not seen a shift in this attitude.

Tim began by mentioning Helen Smith, an author who made all her living - £30-40,000 a year - from sale of ebook titles on Amazon. His point was you could make a go of it if you really tried.

Alastair Robertson has had a fishing and shooting column in The Scotsman for years. Finding that people frequently approached him with questions, Alastair decided to write a 100-page paperback, at around thirty to forty thousand words. Of a run of 3000 at £10 per copy, most sold. The ebook version was priced at £5 and has also been a good seller, with far lower production costs.

Then there's Rupert Colley, who did short history books on narrow subjects - such as aspects of WW1. When he went to e-books he moved up from not much to selling 250,000 a year. His series of books was bought up by HarperCollins. Tim further described his market as "people who are interested in reading up on a subject in an hour" who want bluffers' guides at £2-3 - especially for anniversaries and centenaries.

Tim then raised Endeavour Press, one company specialising in ebook collections of stuff, mostly journos selling collections of their "best work". Endeavour reckon they sell 15,000 a week of their catalogue and will make "you" more money via their "mastery of Google's algorithms".

Peter Jukes on his own initiative covered the Coulson-Brookes trial, attending every day and Tweeting "nuggets" - moment-by-moment reports - as well as creating www.hackingtrial.com. As he got stuck in, Peter asked for crowdfunding to continue - he had no other source of income. He rapidly raised £20,000 because people were so interested in the trial - he had 16,000 Twitter followers - and because he stuck faithfully with covering the trial from April to Christmas.

Having done this oddly fragmentary reporting, Peter thought there was much more to say and there must be other ways to say it. He took a gamble on the interpretation of "contemporaneous reporting" as protection against libel, and it seems to have worked. He crowdfunded a book version. This came out within a few weeks.

Before the next related trial, he asked his followers and whomever to "pre-buy" - to pay for the book of the trial before it was written. He got 1500 orders, wrote it in a month and sent it to those "subscribers" in e-form.

Peter also asked those subscribers to do proofreading and errata on the version he'd just sent them - it was never on sale to the general public. Peter then took in corrections, sent a corrected version to those subscribers and also put it up on Amazon. Says Tim, "As a model for funding journalism that is complete genius".

See also Is Amazon the Devil? - on the pros and cons of Amazon and other ebook publishing platforms.

  • Phil Sutcliffe's own non-profit e-publishing venture Nobody Of Any Importance: A Foot Soldier's Memoir Of World War I is on Amazon and now in print too, via: philsutcliffe47@gmail.com
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