Amid all of the discussion about the multiple ‘walled gardens’ being set up to push DRM-ed ebooks to devices, a Paris-based team have been steadily building a system to push books anywhere and shipping more books than Apple in the process.
Of course, the books are free so the comparison is dodgy, but let’s put the figures out there: in the first 28 days of iBooks, Apple distributed 1.5 million ebooks while Feedbooks distributed out 2.6 million ebooks to iPads, iPhones, PCs and Android devices.
They describe themselves as “a cloud service for digital publishing/distribution” and if you are interested in the back end of things they have a strong commitment to OPDS:
For those of you who are not familiar with OPDS and the BookServer ecosystem:
The BookServer is a growing open architecture for vending and lending digital books over the Internet. Built on open catalog and open book formats, the BookServer model allows a wide network of publishers, booksellers, libraries, and even authors to make their catalogs of books available directly to readers through their laptops, phones, netbooks, or dedicated reading devices. BookServer facilitates pay transactions, borrowing books from libraries, and downloading free, publicly accessible books.
Feedbooks contributed to this effort and continues to maintain an OPDS catalog following the recent developments on the specification.
It has made them the free ebook system of choice for multiple systems, notably the leading eBook apps for iPad/iPhone and Android: Stanza and Aldiko. What this means for a self-published author is that without having to go through any kind of approval process, you can have your work available on millions of devices within minutes of finishing it.
I have put both of my novels on Feedbooks, with good results (in the region of 80-100 downloads per novel per day at the moment.) You simply sign up and get to work publishing. But I’ll admit, it is work. They make you do the job of sectioning and slicing your book into chapters through an interface that would work well for blogging at WordPress, but which is ill-suited to formatting an existing manuscript:
Whenever we use a word processor or do any sort of text editing, we usually work on a single flow of text.
Rather than dividing the text into separate elements, we modify the style of the text to give a visual indication that there’s a division: a slightly bolder font or a different alignment.
Feedbooks rely on a different paradigm: we consider that the structure of the text is very important.
Thanks to this structure we can automatically build a table of contents or divide the text into multiple text flows (which is necessary for advanced formats such as EPUB).
Based on the output format we can also style things differently: while Mobipocket provides limited options for chapter headers, we can create good looking ones in PDF and ePub.
I was lucky enough that a fan of my first novel put it up for me, but I took on the task myself for my recent second novel: you manually define sections and chapters, add chapters and paste in content, scroll around to find where they appeared, notice that some key formatting features like footnotes don’t work in all browsers, and so on. However, having stressed how badly it works, it’s all over and done with in twenty minutes and the upside is that you have a well structured, easily browsable end product.
Once you have done the initial input, it enters the system and you have complete control from that point on. For example, for last Free E Day I decided to do a special edition of the book. I simply uploaded a new cover, a new product description and added a chapter of Author’s commentary. Push ‘publish’ and it was up. Spot a typo: change it. Decide you want to make just the first half of the book available for free: chop it.
There’s not much to dislike about Feedbooks. Yes, it is only suited to distributing ‘free’ material, and yes, you are going to have to struggle to be heard over a massive amount of superhero fanfic. Also, since it is so easy to get a book from Feedbooks via your phone while you wait at the dentist’s, a writer can wonder how many of their downloads are actually being read. But ultimately when you see a title breakout with 20,000 to 50,000 downloads, it’s clear that this is an important channel for getting your work out to the world.
Read an interview with Marc Horne here.