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Dubplates, Battle Weapons, Unbooks And Ebooks

Massively random thing that I’m just trying to get down on the screen so I can see it properly:

So Wil Wheaton released his new book SUNKEN TREASURE as a POD book. And it was doing fine. And it occurred to him that, hey, maybe people would like it as an ebook. He only had the ability to do it as PDF, but, what the fuck, he decided to give it a go and priced it at USD $5 a pop. No DRM.

In 48 hours, he’d sold as many PDFs as he’d sold print versions in the previous four weeks.

Also of interest:

Print sales in the last 48 hours have been better than print sales in the last 5 days.

People bought it as a PDF, liked it, and decided they wanted a print copy for the house.

The thing that caught my eye about the Unbook was the idea of accepting a book as a version: an evolving beast that spits out periodic iterations of itself before crawling away to mutate some more. And it occurred to me today that that actually ties into the idea of the Battle Weapon — the 12-inch released to test new experiments in music (more commonly known as dubplates these days).

(See also "short fiction as the club scene," short/flash fiction as the dubplate)

Paid-PDF as a Battle Weapon? A v0.9 release of a book or collection of ideas? Not quite the "electronic Advance Reading Copy" that people like Baen release in digital formats, maybe — but it could be. It could also be much more beta than that. Novelettes and bags-of-notes. Who knows? Let it mutate.

Just as I was writing this? A blog entry from Simon Reynolds pops up in the side window. Relevant part:

the blog for Kevin Pearce’s new e-zine Your Heart Out, which he will send to you in PDF form if you ask nicely and you can print out if you so choose (a crafty fusion of the possibilities of the internet with the tangibility/cherishablity of the old-style fanzine, eh?)

I will therefore invoke Papernet here to preserve the search string.

Published in brainjuice


  1. I’m excited about all the possibilities the internet is opening up for all kinds of commerce. Now, if this damned recession would just kindly leave…

  2. The dubplate/EBW thing is a little more complex than you have it here.

    Basically a dubplate is a quick copy of a track which is cut into acetate rather than being pressed into vinyl. Transition ( ) will do them and post them out for £30. They were originally used to check mastering levels for things like intercut between grooves, but DJ/producers realised they were also a fast and cheap (getting vinyl pressed is gonna set you back £100s) way to road-test a track in a club.

    The downside is that the acetate is softer than vinyl so a dubplate is only good for 50ish plays before the sound starts getting noticeably degraded.

    The Electronic Battle Weapon thing is just what the Chemicals call the music they make. Presumably they’re releasing the tracks on dubplates, though I’ve never had my hands on one to be sure. Anyway, the point is that dubplates have been around ages and loads of people use them; the EBWs are just a specific instance of this.

  3. Lioness Lioness

    Joss Whedon did something like this with Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog. Even though people watched it for free, then bought it as a download, they still bought the DVD.
    Perhaps tangibility still counts?

  4. Warren Ellis Warren Ellis

    Seej: is metaphor, young man. Is metaphor. Literal thinking only gets you so far.

    You’re also wrong about the Chemicals’ EBWs, which are limited 12-inch promo discs circulated to DJs for the express purposes noted above.

    Also, just to return to the literal for a moment: vinyl dubplates, which last a lot longer, started appearing a few years ago.

    Your concluding point: well, OBVIOUSLY. Why does the internet think that if I mention something in a blog post today, I must’ve first heard of it an hour ago? Just making connections here.

  5. Slight nitpick- I don’t think Wil’s book had been out for four weeks when he announced PDF. I thought it was merely one+. Feel free to prove me wrong. Still, he proved that PDF sales can explode.

    Did this work for Wil because a big chunk of his audience is on Twitter? His audience is used to getting things immediately from him, so PDF delivery makes a lot of sense. Perhaps authors with high Twitter followings can capitalize better on ebook delivery. Also, Wil’s book wasn’t a novel (i.e. something that is best read in large, unbroken chunks of time), but a collection of essays- maybe that lends itself to ebook success? I’m purely guessing here.

  6. I’m reminded of “The Last Samurai” author Helen DeWitt, whose novel “Your Name Here” — — is currently available from her site for purchase as a PDF, along with an “if you’d like to consider this for publication” note…

  7. This is the sort of thing people like myself have been wanking about for years, I love the fact that people that actually DO THINGS are actually trying this and that it seems to be working. This could be the tipping point of something very cool.

    Now the question is how much of the sales are due to the novelty of this distribution system.

  8. GUD’s been fighting the good battle of PDF versus hardcopy–we’d love it if more people went the digital route (well, both routes, of course–more sales, more love). I’m sure it helps Wil to have such an audience already (and much content prior to prove his worth).

    We send out eARCs to outlets that will take them. Hardcopy ARCs to a select few that won’t.

    Life. Fun. Ish.

  9. Fact is a chunk of a creator’s fanbase would pay a subscription for the daily random and unstructured scribbles delivered automagically each day/week. Authenticity, access (or perception of) and exclusivity – winning content2.0 biz models.

  10. It worked for me, releasing my book as a free to download copy under CC. It worked so well it was the best selling book from my original publisher.

    Now I’ve moved to Harper, their accountants have looked at the numbers and are allowing me to release the second one in the same way.

    All of which makes me think that doing this really does make money, they would have the numbers for it after all and I don’t think that Murdoch’s people would do something that affected their profit.

    Should be getting a trade dress version of book one soon.

    To answer Ray’s comment, I think that a large part of this is because of the conversation that the author has with their audience, Mr. Ellis is another example of an author who has an audience that invests in him because of his activity online. As for the collection of essays point, that’s pretty much a similar format to my books, so maybe there is something in your idea that the format might inform the decision to go un-DRMed ebook.

  11. Denyer Denyer

    Two or three quid’s a winning price point for impulse-buying downloads, IMO. At least it works on me…

  12. WE is right about vinyl ‘dubplates’.

    Strap that shit onto technics (or whatever sub-standard other kind) you already own (c’mon, $1700 is a cheap price to make your own custom record collection, if you’re into that kinda thing) and get vinyl blanks and cut ’em. of course, don’t accidentally bump that machine while in-process or you’ve ruined it. Also keep it away from any source of noise since you may be able to transfer vibrations to it and thusly into your mix.

  13. @warren Yeah, I get your points; just thought others reading when you said “the idea of the Battle Weapon … (more commonly known as dubplates these days)” may be interested in what a dubplate is. Not intended as criticism. Didn’t know about the vinyl ones though. Very awesome, though I’m now wondering where the cost-curves cross over for cutting vinyl as opposed to getting the laquers and metalwork made up and pressing the things.
    Also, on the EBW front, are the Chemicals pressing their 12″s then? Man, I really don’t think a lot of DJs would care if they were just emailed an MP3. Of the ones I’ve spoken too it seems that most just proclaim a love for vinyl because they think that’s what DJs should say. Kinda cool if they’re going to the expense regardless.

  14. D D

    Jeff Noon has some about the nature of dubmixing text in Cobralingus. He’s the post-post-post modern god of random. In my Church of Enlightened Secular Humanism he’ll have to go moebius and be god and prophet wrapped in one.

  15. Seej – I know plenty of DJs who haven’t moved to Serato. If you want to make sure your sound reaches the clubs, it needs to be a record.

  16. I’m not sure if you’re aware or not but O’Reilly the tech publisher has been doing this with it’s Rough Cuts series for quite some time:

    “Rough Cuts is a service from Safari Books Online that gives you early access to content on cutting-edge technologies – before it’s published. It lets you literally read the book as it is being written. You can read it online, download as a PDF, or print.”

  17. […] (This would also seem to be one obvious end for the sf magazine: ref. Elizabeth Bear equating short sf with the club scene, Electronic Battle Weapon POD. […]

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