We are pleased to welcome a special guest to Tuesday Serial today. Writer Brand Gamblin is among a group of innovative writers who pioneered the use of podcasting to expand the readership for their novels. Today we are featuring the first in a two-post series by Brand about using podcasting for web serials. Next week Brand will be back with the second post aimed at helping writers adapt their web serials for audio. Be sure to post your comments and questions for Brand. Welcome, Brand!
What Podcasting Can Do For Your Web Serial
by Brand Gamblin
I wrote my first novel a few years ago. As far as new writers go, my path was fairly typical. I wrote my manuscript, then did a couple of editing passes, and was ready to publish. That’s when I deviated from the normal path. I spent more than a month producing a free audiobook version of my story.
In a world where people pay an average of $15USD for an audiobook, I chose to record it myself (my girlfriend did the reading because it was a female protagonist), edit the audio, find music, add some sound effects, and release more than six hours of audio as a totally free podcast. It was weeks of hard work and long nights, with nothing more to show from it than a podcast that I gave away.
The most obvious question about that is ‘Why?’ Wouldn’t that hurt my book sales rights? Wouldn’t that encourage piracy? Isn’t it just throwing away money?
I’m glad you asked. No, no, and no. I chose this path because I looked at the successes and failures of others in the field, and I found that giving the audiobook away as a serial podcast had a much better return.
You see, as a writer, audiobook rights are not my biggest concern. I’m tight-fisted with my print and e-book rights but very free with my audiobook rights. As a new writer, Audible.com isn’t going to be knocking on my door. And if a publisher is ever interested in the rights, I can still yank the audiobooks later. Right now, the rights are exercised solely by me. My main concern is e-books, with print books as a secondary market, so why not use audio as a promotional draw?
When I put my story on Podiobooks.com, I caught the attention of thousands of listeners. The free audiobook world is still small, and their listeners are still hungry for good content. Essentially, I gained a few hundred fans without paying a single cent in promotion costs.
But what about piracy? If pirates can get to an easy copy for distribution, wouldn’t they spread it without my permission?
Here’s the thing. I release all of my stories as DRM-free MP3 files. Piracy only works if people make a resource more freely available than the originator. They simply can’t come up with a more free solution than the one I’m already giving. If I were a pirate, I’d just spread the link to Podiobooks.com, where the book can be downloaded for free. Honestly, I wish they would pirate the podiobook. Because they would be spreading my book around to listeners for free. . . and that was my original goal, after all.
So if people can get the audiobook for free, why would they turn around and buy it? It’s a legitimate concern, except for one thing: a new writer’s enemy is not piracy; it’s obscurity (I got that from Cory Doctorow). A person who’s never heard of my work is just as unlikely to buy the e-book as a person who listened to it for free. Actually, the person who’s never heard of me is less likely, because the one who got it for free may look for other books by me, or might decide they liked it so much that they want to buy the e-book, or maybe they just tell a friend about it. So, the person who’s never heard of it has zero chance of buying, but the person who got it for free is a guaranteed non-zero chance. With that in mind, my goal should be maximizing distribution over sales, and the “free” model is perfect for that.
So, by distributing my book as a free serial podiobook, I promoted my new story to thousands of listeners, gained lots of fans without spending a cent on advertising, and did it all without risking piracy or giving up any future audiobook rights. The sales from that book now make the payments for my car, and I’ve made sure to distribute all subsequent writing as serial audio fiction because of it.
Brand Gamblin was born to write video games. He got a degree in computer science and became a video game programmer right out of college. For the next decade, he published games for such companies as Microprose, Acclaim, and Firaxis. In his spare time, Brand created the YouTube video cult classic, “Calls For Cthulhu,” which has thousands of followers worldwide, and has been nominated for several film awards.
Recently, he has left game programming for a more creative venture, writing. Brand’s first book, “Tumbler”, was released as a podiobook in 2009, and then self-published in 2010. His second book was a steampunk retelling of George Orwell’s 1984. It was finished in 2010, and is still in production. In 2011, Brand published “The Hidden Institute” (podiobook, e-book), a futuristic story of re-gentrification. It has been called “Oliver Twist meets My Fair Lady, with a death penalty.”