January 28th, 2006

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Sudden Popularity and Ransomware

Saturday, January 28th, 2006

Most books meet their publisher’s initial expectations of popularity. A-list authors such as Stephen King, Danielle Steel, and Tom Clancy consistently produce popular books. Second tier authors that have built a following produce books with steadily increasing popularity. Most of the rest of the books come and go in relative obscurity. And rarely a book will garner much greater popularity than initially expected.

These rare breakout books happen for various reasons. Maybe the book’s topic is important or controversial, maybe a talk show host recommends the book, or maybe the book is just that good.

In traditional publishing, royalty payment systems automatically adjust the earnings of an author to the popularity of a book. These breakout books result in a great windfall for the author.

Ransomware, unlike traditional publishing, doesn’t include a mechanism to adjust the author’s earnings to the popularity of the book. This lack doesn’t pose a problem with the A-list authors, who know that their books will be worth large sums of money. They just set the ransom price appropriately, and they will earn about what they would earn in traditional publishing. And ransomware publishing isn’t a problem for the majority of authors who make a small amount from their work, and honestly set their expectations at the same level.

Where ransomware does pose a problem is with the few breakout books. If an author publishes a book through ransomware and Oprah selects the book for her book club, the author could loose out on a small fortune. He could have made millions, but he only gets the originally set ransomware price.

Or does he?

First off, just because a book has earned its ransom and is fully released doesn’t mean the collection system needs to close. With a popular book there will continue to be a small percentage of readers who will want to financially reward the author for his work.

Second, even though a book is published as an e-book, the book can be sold in other formats. Many readers still prefer to read a book made of paper. The publisher can produce the book as a print on demand, or even a high volume print run. Some authors are staking their career on the fact that some readers will want to buy a paper book even though the book is released as a freely available e-book (e.g. Cory Doctorow, www.craphound.com). A more popular ransomware book results in more paper copies sold which results in more money for the author.

Third, a popular book can make far more from derivative works than the original book earned. Ransomware in no way requires the author give up any derivative rights in the work. For example money seems to flow much easier in the movie business. I’ve seen reports of authors earning much more from selling movie rights than they earned from the direct sales of the book. Another derivative avenue is producing the sequel. The next story can be sold for a much higher ransom.

Lastly, for the author that wishes to make a life long career out of producing ransomware books, a phenomenally popular book can be considered just a step along that career path. This one breakout book will garner the writer an almost automatic audience for his following works. The ransom price for the next book can be set much higher. Building a career on ransomware publishing is worthy of much more discussion, so I’ll cover this in more depth in additional posts.