For many popular authors, including Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig, releasing their books under a Creative Commons license has been more than just a way to share and spread their work, it’s been part of their business model.
However, it’s not a business model that works for every author, even if many would be perfectly happy to give their works away, the reality of needing to earn revenue from books can put a crimp in those desires. Simply put, if an author can’t earn enough to survive, they can’t dedicate as much time to their next work which means less new works to come down the road (if any).
Unglue.it hopes to balance the needs for authors to make a living and the desire to make books available under Creative Commons Licenses. The idea is remarkably simple: Create a service that functions a lot like Kickstarter or other crowdfunding sites, but where the goal is always the same, a book becoming freely-licensed.
While the idea is fairly straightforward, its execution is a bit more complex. However, for authors who are looking for creative ways to earn a living while making their books as open possible, Unglue.it offers a new approach that may work out where other approaches have failed.
How Unglue.it Works
Unglue.it is fundamentally like any other crowdfunding site, it requires users to come together and pay small amounts of money to reach a much larger goal, in this case, raising enough money so that the book can be placed under a Creative Commons License.
To do this, Unglue.it has three different types of campaigns that can be run.
- Thanks for Ungluing: This campaign is basically a donation model, where a person has already released a book under an open license and is simply accepting donations as thanks.
- Buy to Unglue: The author has finished the book but won’t open it up until a certain amount of money has been made. The author sets a price for an individual license to the ebook and, once the monetary goal is met, the book is unglued and placed under a CC license.
- Pledge to Unglue: This campaign involves a book that is already written, such as a print book that is no longer being actively sold, and asks readers to donate to the cause of placing it under an open license.
Unglue.it is very clear that the site is only for books that have been already written and are available to some degree. Other sites, such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter are better for backing works before they are written. Instead, Unglue.it is only backing the open licensing of the work, not the creation of new works.
In the first and second types of campaigns, the money is withdrawn instantly where, in the third, pledges are only removed after the drive has succeeded. If it fails, no money is taken out.
For authors, Unglue.it takes a flat 25% of all revenue from Buy-to-Unglue campaigns and 8% of all Thanks-for-Ungluing payments. Both also incur a per-transaction charge of $0.25 and both sets of charges include credit card transaction fees.
So is Unglue.it right for you? It really depends on what you are looking for.
The Benefits of Unglue.it
Unglue.it is targeted at authors who want to make their work free but also wish to earn revenue from it. It provides a way for them to pledge their works under a more open license but still ensure that they earn at least what they need from it.
For authors who are passionate about Creative Commons and open licenses, this might be very appealing. Though there are countless sites that will let you publish your books under a CC license, few, if any, actually try to help you earn more money from it and none that I’m aware of use a crowdfunding model to let readers “buy” the book into an open license.
But the real potential for the author is the added value Unglue.it provides. Purchasing an ebook on a site like Smashwords may support the author, but here it also is buying into making the book free for others down the road.
It’s a noble cause that both makes the author more likable and the buyer feel better about their purchase. Best of all, it gives authors a guaranteed amount of income from a work, meaning that they can determine how much they want to make from something before setting it free (of course, they can continue to make money after it’s been freed as well).
It’s easy to see why purchasers might be more willing to open up their wallets on a site like Unglue.it and that should definitely appeal to authors. However, there are also some concerns that should make many authors wary about making Unglue.it their first choice.
The Concerns About Unglue.it
The biggest concern about Unglue.it is one of exposure. Not only is Unglue.it a new site with a small audience, but it doesn’t provide you exposure on other platforms either.
A site like Smashwords, for example, not only has a larger built-in audience but also helps your book get in to iBooks, Barnes & Noble online store and more. They also help obtain ISBNs and generally do more to promote the books it hosts.
In short, it’s possible to give your book much greater exposure elsewhere, While there’s nothing stopping you (that I’ve been able to find) from selling on other channels in addition to Unglue.it, it seems to defeat much of the purpose since, almost certainly, most of the sales will not go toward the “ungluing” of the book.
Also, while Unglue.it’s royalties are great for the “Thanks” campaigns, for the “Pay-to-Unglue” campaigns they are fairly low. Looking at Smashwords again, the site offers an 85% royalty rate on all books they sell directly. Compare that to Unglue.it’s 75% royalty rate plus the additional $0.25 transaction fee, which is not at Smashwords.
In short, if you’re considering a “Pay-to-Unglue” campaign, you’ll be getting less exposure and receiving less per book.
This doesn’t make Unglue.it a bad idea. It just means that you will probably most want to consider it if you have a large audience already and don’t need the extra exposure and if you think that the added benefits of Unglue.it will outweigh the extra fees.
However, those who are buying or giving thanks on Unglue.it may also have reason to worry. Most of the books that have been dedicated to a Creative Commons License have been dedicated to a BY-NC-ND license, which means that, once it is unglued, while it can be freely copied and shared, it will not be able to be used for any commercial use nor will it be available for remixing or editing.
This license is not “Approved for Free Cultural Works” as per the Creative Commons Organization and, despite Unglue.it likening it to “a way to make the public domain happen sooner,” it is anything but.
Compare this, for example, to the BY-NC license that Lessig uses, which allows non-commercial derivative uses. However, Unglue.it is not alone in using this license. It’s the same license that Cory Doctorow uses with his books.
While it’s certainly a far more open license than the copyright default of all rights reserved, it still carries important restrictions and can block many compelling reuses.
Unglue.it is definitely an interesting idea, a way to ensure that authors make a reasonable amount of money while still working to put books under (more) open licenses.
However, at the moment, it is just that, an idea. The execution certainly can be improved and there are a lot of features/services that other ebook sites offer that Unglue.it doesn’t.
If I were an author sitting on an unpublished ebook, I would be wary of putting all of my eggs into Unglue.it’s basket. Limited audience, fewer features and higher fees are not a great combination. If I were interested in having a “buy in” program for opening the book up, I would most likely look to host it myself, tallying and updating royalties as they came in, it might not be as elegant as what Unglue.it does, it it’s an option that lets me reach out to my audience more directly.
Still, for authors very dedicated to Creative Commons as an idea but still want to earn money from their work, Unglue.it is still a very interesting idea and one well worth checking out.