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Why My New Book is Available Through a Website Subscription

I have decided to publish my fourth book in the form of protected webpages accessed via a subscription. I hope that more quant traders will follow this route. I offer a few explanations below for my decision based on my experience with book publishing.

What you will read below are hard-learned lessons that can save you a lot of valuable time and money.

I am not a first time author but a best selling author

My first three books were great successes. Especially the second book on the subject of stock trading with price patterns was a best seller in my publisher’s website for several weeks. I have a lot of experience dealing with book publishers.  When I announced that I was writing a book on price patterns in a conference some years ago, two publishers went on a bidding war on the spot regarding the advance and royalty level. I went with the highest bidder but as I found out later that did not matter. You may get ripped off no matter what. Here is why:

Royalties are based on gross sales, not on a minimum price per unit

Book publishers will pay you based on gross sales. They will refuse to set a minimum price per unit because if they do that they cannot make any money from you.  Then, they often do wholesales to bookstores around the world with a price of a few dollar per unit. You may end up getting almost nothing. Here is a real example:

One of my publishers sold my book wholesale for $1 to bookstores in the Far East. Some of these bookstores sold the book for as much as $100. However, I received 18 cents royalty per book. I called a few of the bookstores to ask about this discrepancy and they hung up on me even after I said that I am one of the authors of books they were selling for $100. I then suspected that the publisher was ripping me off by having a private contract with the sellers. I went to a law office and they asked me for a $30,000 advance just to start an investigation.

You will never have control over what the publisher does

As an author you are at the mercy of the publisher. They can send you a royalty check or decide not to. There is little you can do other than following the legal route if they do not. But remember this: Most book publishing houses are like law offices with a publishing department. You will get nowhere and you will end up spending more money to fight them. You are at their mercy completely.  And that is not all: you are also at the mercy of intellectual property pirates.

Your book PDF may be distributed in forums shortly after publication

Someone buys a hardcopy of your book, scans it and then uploads it to forums. It happened to me before. Doing that with pdf and e-book versions is even easier. There are at least two problems with this. The first is that people read your book for free. You can argue that those people would never buy it anyway. However, if you have included some edge(s) in your book, then those who paid for it get the short end. This is important: respecting those who paid for the information.

The second problem is that some outfits that sell used books can get hold of the electronic form. It is quite easy nowadays to print a book and sell it as used in excellent condition but for much less. A friend published a hardcopy book via a major online publishing service. After only a few days and having sold only two units, there were five used units for sale for much less. He contacted the websites and no one answered as to why there were used units for sale. I hope you get the point.

Bogus “used books in excellent condition” will reduce your royalty check

Who buys books and then sells them back to distributors for a small profit? I have never done that. No one I know has ever done that. Most people highlight sentences and even write on the book pages. Where do these “used books in excellent condition, just like new” come from in such great volume? Think about it: most quants I know have donated books they did not need to their local library. They did not sell anything to a used books distributor.

Is this some scheme to rip off authors? I think it is but I have no proof. I will not spend a second trying to prove that. Instead, I seek for ways to protect my intellectual property and keep my profits.

Note that used book sellers are essentially protected by the U.S. Copyright Act, Section 109(a):

“…the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title, or any person authorized by such owner, is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.”

This is how I decided to distribute my book

Each chapter of the book is a webpage that is protected by a membership plugin. The book buyer must subscribe to access the content.

 

At the end of each chapter there are navigation links to the table of contents and to previous and next chapter.

In this way, the book can be accessed from any electronic device if the theme of the website is mobile enabled. People will be happy to read the book on the bus, train, plane or even at the beach.

Book subscription period

All subscriptions must expire at a certain time. In the beginning I offered a six-month subscription with an option of a free extension, if requested, but I just changed that to a one-year with a free extension. I think this is plenty of time in a fast moving world. Most readers will need about 15 days on the average anyway.

I hope more authors will follow this route

I was the victim of author rip off in the past and I would not like this to happen to anyone because I know what writing a book means in terms of personal sacrifices. After publishing my first book I was not getting royalty checks although it was listed high on publishers website and frequently as a best seller. I called the publisher and I asked why I did not receive a royalty check. I was told that my advance was not covered yet. When I demanded an accounting report, I got a $700 check in the mail in a few days.

Summary

If you give your book to a publisher you are at their mercy because they can decide to do wholesales and even not pay you any royalty. There is nothing you can do except follow an expensive legal path that is not worth the frustration and money. If you self publish, you may face issues of illegal distribution from pirates of intellectual property and you may have problems with a great number of “used books” at lower prices, essential protected by copyright low.

It takes some work to configure and operate properly a membership website but I think it is worth the time and effort and I hope more authors will follow this route.

© 2015-2018 Michael Harris. All Rights Reserved. We grant a revocable permission to create a hyperlink to this blog subject to certain terms and conditions. Any unauthorized copy, reproduction, distribution, publication, display, modification, or transmission of any part of this blog is strictly prohibited without prior written permission. 

23 Comments

  1. Comment by post author

    Hello Wouter,

    You can also read webpages offline. I thought you already subscribed and were asking for a pdf. There will not be any pdf. This is a different business model. As with all business models, you win some and you lose some. Think about it: 95% of older people cannot cope with a smartphone. Yet, the business model of a smart phone doing everything is the future. Yesterday, a friend read my book on a smartphone with no problems and loved it. I go with the future.

    Best.

  2. W.J. Keller

    I still would like to own your book as pdf. Maybe a pdf stamper can help?
    See eg. http://www.tipsandtricks-hq.com/wp-pdf-stamper.

    • Comment by post author

      Hello,

      Do you have an online subscription already?

      • W.J. Keller

        No. I will buy the pdf when available (as many others, I guess, who are as old fashioned as I am). Thanks.

        Wouter

        • Comment by post author

          There is no essential difference between a pdf format and the webpage format. They are both electronic.

          • W.J. Keller

            That's not completely true, as you know.

            I can read my pdf when I am offline and I can even print it (in one task).

            And I like to highlight / mark my printed books. Eg. I bought the ebook "Selective Works of Markowitz" for 25$ (as stamped pdf), printed and binded it (700 pages) and marked it all-over <g>.

            I also would like to own a book for later reference, without asking for extensions after 6 months etc.

            PS. Why did you asked about my subscription? If you promise me a stamped pdf I am happy to take a subscription in advance.

            Best, Wouter (age 67)

  3. Anthony Garner

    Very useful Michael, thank you. I was recently asked by the publishers to write a new book after the success of a few articles I published in the UK magazine Investors Chronicle. I was having reservations about the financial worth of so doing and determined to follow the self publish route. Your route is far better. Think I'll give it a go!
    A

  4. Ryan

    "Each chapter of the book is a webpage that is protected by a membership plugin."

    Could you elaborate more on this? Are we talking a third party program that must be installed, or just a login screen?

  5. nick diran

    Seriously for 50 USD this was one of best book I have ever read. Whatever the format! The chapter 6 and 7 probably made me save 50k$ alone.
    First this blog is excellent and for free. Second this book made think seriously about my backtesting process and my risk exposure in a very important way. the book is clear and full of example that anybody will understand. if it's only to support Michael to continue to publish more work like this that i would subcribe again!
    Here is the work of someone with 30 years of experience who is brutally honest and will make you think in more than one way about your 'superb quantitative algorithm'.
    It's an eyes opener!

  6. Bill Sherman

    Michael – to your knowledge, are there any places on the web where authors can host their works and use a common payment/subscription/membership engine? Would seem to be an appealing alternative to the roll-your-own solution you've had to create, and offer additional exposure and cross-selling opportunities (if such a place exists!).

    • Comment by post author

      Hello Bill,

      Maybe there are such places but I have not looked for one. I already had a subscription service so it did not take much work to use it for the book. With WordPress and membership plugins it is not too hard to implement such a scheme nowadays. Back in the days of html and cgi scripts it was a bit more difficult I imagine.

      I thought about the idea of a related service when I started doing this but there is nothing to patent and the idea is open to competition with declining profit margins. I am concentrating on creating my own content and distributing it. I have some more ideas for books I am working on.

      Best.

  7. Lukasz Bajor

    Have you tried asking other people what are they doing (I still see many milions of books on Amazon, but in fact see some authors selling pdfs themselves).

    I can also provide my feedback – I am usually reading when commute on tube or train I don't have internet access then. For me it is a matter how can I get content and read ofline (which you can do on both kindle and safari books online).

    Thanks for experimenting though,
    Lukasz

  8. polly serial

    An interesting read, like many of your posts. I am interested to read the book but I must admit I'm put off by the model you're using to sell it. It seems to me that you're asking a price that is more consistent with the previous world of costs and frictions (transport/fabrication/publisher shenanigans) than with website economics. In other words, I might pay 50 bucks for a book to have and keep; or I might pay that much for a subscription to a website that had a variety of content; but I don't think I will pay that much for a subscription to a single book. But I'm not saying you should or shouldn't do anything, just providing my feedback and very much wish you the best of luck with it. An update on this experiment a year from now would be interesting to read! These questions of content and its value matter to a lot of us.

  9. W.J. Keller

    I want to own a book like this. Why not publish it yourselves as Kindle book at Amazon like Meb and Wes are doing?