Is Calibre creating the foundation for a world free of Book Gatekeepers?

The eBook revolution, happening all around us thanks to the rise of eReaders and eBooks and Tablets, faces a few dangers -

  1. It might get stopped in its tracks because most readers and most authors are not willing to let go of their past attitudes towards books. An attitude of serfdom and ‘I have no control’ that they seem to not realize they can let go of without negative consequences.
  2. Publishers are still trying hard to use all sorts of tactics to stall ebooks and/or position ebooks as ‘just as valuable’ as physical hardcovers.
  3. There are new Gatekeepers trying to create an environment in which people and authors go back to where they were – We don’t control anything. Eternal gratitude for publishing us. Eternal gratitude for getting us books.
  4. Legislation that would lock in a monopoly for the Old Gatekeepers or for the New Gatekeepers. Lots of monopolies are created due to Government passed laws and we might see that happen (perhaps even happening) due to ‘well intentioned’ (or well lobbied) regulations passed in ebooks.
  5. The eBook revolution not getting platforms that combine all the benefits of the new world of ebooks. This would lead to readers going back to the known devil of Publishers and New Gatekeepers rather than contend with the new devil of randomness and an ever-expanding slushpile.

There are some more dangers. However, these are the ones that we’ll discuss in this post.

First, let’s look at how readers and authors could nullify all these dangers. Then let’s look at the role Calibre could play.

How do we readers and authors nullify the Dangers that threaten to derail the Revolution in eBooks?

Well, here are some ways -

  1. Gaining Knowledge and Embracing Reality. The single biggest danger is that readers and authors aren’t really willing to accept that they control EVERYTHING now. Perhaps it is so many decades of being dictated to. Perhaps it’s the reluctance to change. Perhaps it’s fear of the unknown. Perhaps it’s just laziness.
  2. Take a realistic view of ‘The Value of Books’. It’s easy to fall into the trap Publishers set for us and believe eBooks are worth the same as Hardcovers. It’s easier to fall into the trap our own greed and/or lack of balance lead us into and think ‘We should get everything for free. The eBook Fairy will pay on our behalf.’. Neither makes sense in the long-term. I’m not sure what the answer is here but we have to figure it out.
  3. Avoid letting the new Gatekeepers control everything. It’s easy to go back to being sheep led by a shepherd we hope won’t switch from leading us to fleecing us or turning us into sheep kebabs. In the long-term we need to create something where the Gatekeepers are controlled by readers and authors and not vica versa.
  4. Be very wary of Government intervention. Sometimes it is lobbying. Sometimes it is genuine incompetence. Government ‘help’ often creates monopolies that are worse than an actual free market would be.
  5. Platforms. This is the single biggest thing. We need platforms that let readers and authors connect without meddling middlemen. Platforms that won’t encourage the association of cheap books with lack of quality. Platforms that won’t drown out the authors that are bypassing old and new gatekeepers and coming straight to readers.

My contention would be that Platforms are the single most important defence against a regression to a Books World controlled by Gatekeepers.

Why Platforms are the ONLY solution

There are a few particularly important reasons we need huge ebook platforms that are not controlled by Publishers or New Gatekeepers -

  1. Platforms overcome natural human laziness. Readers aren’t willing to go to individual author websites to buy. Authors aren’t willing to handle setting up their own shops. Most people want ‘easy’ and are willing to pay for easy. This leads to Gatekeepers getting a lot of power by providing ‘easy’. Platforms can provide ‘easy’ and take back control from Gatekeepers.
  2. Platforms allow authors and readers to communicate without external influences and without controls and checks.
  3. Platforms can grow big enough to rival and surpass ebook stores and bookstores. This means they can influence trends and behavior on a huge scale.
  4. Platforms allow crowd intelligence on a grand scale. If the Platforms allow people to share intelligence about quality, value for money, formatting, nature of writing, genres and sub-genres, then the platform can replace the current information sources. This is a great thing because most ‘current information sources’ are either controlled by Old and New Gatekeepers OR are hopelessly trapped in the old mindsets.
  5. Platforms can break pricing monopolies and subliminal and psychological influence tactics. Walk into a store and you see a stack of Book X. You automatically assume it must be selling well. Go online and see a book listed as ‘Deal of the Day’ and you automatically assume it’s a great deal. There’s a lot of very powerful marketing and psychology stuff being utilized to ‘create’ bestsellers and trends. A truly free platform would destroy a LOT of that.
  6. Platforms are self-sustaining. Network effects, the social touch, crowd intelligence, ease of use, etc. lead to platforms growing bigger and bigger and bigger.
  7. Platforms cannot be stopped. A small retailer can be stopped. A few authors banding together can be stopped. Indie authors can be slowed down. Readers wanting a better deal or more rights can be scared with copyright laws and such. However, when you achieve scale then you become unstoppable. A publisher or a new Gatekeeper would go after a small group. If it’s 10 million people then there’s too much risk.

Basically, what the eBook Revolution needs is a TRUE Platform and one that is focused on What’s Best for Books and Readers and Authors. Not on ‘How to Monetize Readers and Authors and Use them Efficiently and make them Powerless again’.

Calibre – The Makings of a Platform

What is Calibre?

Well, Calibre is a ‘complete’ ebook management solution. It provides -

  1. eBook Library Management.
  2. eBook Conversion.
  3. Syncing to eReaders and Tablets.
  4. Downloading News and converting to eBook Form.
  5. eBook Viewer.
  6. Content Server for Online Access to your eBook Library.

Notice that this is just the foundation parts. There isn’t any real network or social pipeline here yet.

However, there are 12 million+ unique PCs with Calibre. That means 5 to 10 million readers are using Calibre. More importantly, Calibre is already doing a lot of the things we need done to sustain the eBook Revolution – spread the reality that readers own the future, more control for readers, more ease of use for readers.

Calibre as the lynchpin of a New Foundation for eBooks

If Calibre and GoodReads and Smashwords and a few other large book related services and sites were to group together. Or if Calibre by itself decided to take the route of becoming an eBook Platform.

We would get something very interesting -

  1. A Platform that wasn’t focused on creating a Gated/Closed Ecosystem and becoming a Gatekeeper.
  2. A Focus on What’s Best for Readers and Authors.
  3. Huge Scale. We’re talking millions to begin with and as improvements happen and network effects take hold, we would easily reach 20 to 40 million users in a year or two.

Calibre could say – Let’s connect all these people together. Let’s have them share information on quality, formatting, book covers, book series, etc. Let’s have them help each other regarding what to buy. Let’s have indie authors approach readers directly.

Why not create a pure Authors+Readers marketplace?

Instead of exploiting authors and readers like Old Gatekeepers, let’s empower them.

All the ingredients are in place. Plus Calibre already has a lot of the readers who UNDERSTAND that they control EVERYTHING now. Who are being freed from their decades of training of kowtowing to Gatekeepers.

If not Calibre, then something inspired by the same ideals that inspire Calibre

If you think about it, it’s rather amazing that there are 5 to 10 million readers using Calibre.

It shows that people don’t want Gatekeepers to control their reading lives. It’s just one of the signs among many -

  1. The rise of indie authors.
  2. The rise of $1 books (until they were unceremoniously weighted/handicapped out of the top spots).
  3. The rise of readers with AWARENESS of the power they wield.
  4. The rise of new platforms that aren’t focused on money and barrier/gate creation as their main motivations.
  5. The expansion of who reads and who can afford books.

There are lots and lots of signs that people (both readers and authors) want a better deal. What’s missing is something that can connect everyone together. A True Platform focused on readers and authors. Perhaps even a handful of True Platforms focused on making things better for readers and authors.

We are at a crossroads. We have Old Gatekeepers to the left. We have New Gatekeepers to the right. The Road in front of us, which all of us want to take, is marked ‘The True Path Forward for Readers and Authors’ – But, the road itself is missing. There’s nothing there. Authors and Readers that UNDERSTAND that readers and authors have ALL THE POWER want to walk along this road. But who’s going to build the Road for them?

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