Selling e-Books

Been watching from afar as C.J. Cherryh, Jane Fancher, and Lynn Abbey have been setting up an e-Book Store, called Closed Circle, for selling their no-longer-in-print books. It should be opening as I write this, and I’ll be over there shortly. If I could replace all of my CJ books with electronic editions, I’d gain an entire shelf for other folks’ paper copies. Seems like a real good deal to me.

The technical issues have been interesting. Apparently Jane and Lynn have been doing most of the website work (looks a lot like it’s been mostly Jane, since Lynn’s been injured), while CJ has been working out the mechanics of getting the books into an acceptable format. She put up a sample book–an excerpt from her old blog, as it happens–a couple weeks ago, and asked for reactions. Those have been interesting, and it’s clear she learned things from the trial.

Things will evidently work as follows: You’ll get a link to a ZIP file containing either three or eleven files (which version depends on a selection at purchase, apparently). The smaller version will contain the book in the three most common e-book formats; the larger version will also include eight less common formats. (Obviously the format translations are technically easy for her. And, just as obviously, there’s a effort tradeoff at the “stock the shelves” step related to the number of versions the store offers.) Cherryh recommends loading your purchase into either calibre or mobipocket (both are free; I’ve used calibre) for reading–or for transfer into a dedicated e-book reader, like an Amazon Kindle or a Sony Touch.

So:

  1. Download and install software.
  2. Purchase the book.
  3. Download it.
  4. UnZIP it.
  5. Select the correct version using the reader software you’ve selected.
  6. Make sure it’s readable.
  7. Attach your e-book reader (presumably via USB).
  8. Transfer the file to the e-book reader.

I see lots of points of failure. Baen’s Webscriptions site moves the Selection step to the purchase point, and makes the UnZIP step voluntary. That’s a bit better, but both stores, to my mind, assume too much technical literacy on the part of their customers. Obviously that’s what Amazon’s Whispernet is intended to address.

The store I help run as part of my job delivers documents (not books) in PDF format, and we spend lots of time doing what amounts to remote technical support. I’m guessing Closed Circle might find it advantageous to move their design in Baen’s direction.