One way of increasing the chance of your books actually being read is to make them freely downloadable in some format, while offering inexpensive print-on-demand paperback versions for those who want them. Or at least, that’s a publication model which has worked rather well for me in the last couple of years. Here’s a short report of how things went during 2022, and then just a few general reflections which might (or might not) encourage one or two others to adopt the same model!
As I always say, the absolute download stats are very difficult to interpret, because if you open a PDF in your browser on different days, I assume that this counts as a new download — and I can’t begin to guess the typical number of downloads per individual reader (how many students download-and-save, how many keep revisiting the download page? who knows?). But here is the headline news:
|PDF downloads||Paperback sales|
|Intro Formal Logic||11221||1112|
|Intro Gödel’s Theorems||7432||627|
|Gödel Without Tears||4394||677|
|Beginning Mathematical Logic||25863||493|
No doubt, the relative download figures, comparing books and comparing months, are more significant: and these have remained very stable over the year, with about a 10% increase over the previous year.
As for paperback sales of the first three books, these too remain very steady month-by-month, and the figures are very acceptable. So we have proof-of-concept: even if a text is made freely available, enough people prefer to work from a printed text to make it well worthwhile setting up an inexpensively priced paperback. (In addition there’s also a hardback of IFL which sold 150 copies over the year, and a hardback of the first edition of GWT sold 40 copies up to end of October, before being replaced by a new hardback edition.)
The BML Study Guide was newly paperbacked at the beginning of the year, not with any real expectation of significant sales given the rather particular nature of the book. Surprisingly, it is well on course to sell over 500 copies by its first anniversary.
Obviously, an author wants their books to conquer the world — why isn’t just everyone using IFL? — but actually, I’m pretty content with these statistics.
To repeat what I said when giving an end-of-year report at the beginning of last January, I don’t know what general morals can be drawn from my experiences with these four books. Every book is what it is and not another book, and every author’s situation is what it is.
But providing an open-access PDF plus a very inexpensive but reasonably well produced paperback is obviously a fairly ideal publication model for getting stuff out there. I’d be delighted, and — much more importantly — potential readers will be delighted, if rather more people followed the model.
Yes, to produce a book this way, you need to be able to replicate in-house some of the services provided e.g. by a university press. But volunteer readers — friends, colleagues and students — giving comments and helping you to spot typos will (if there is a reasonable handful of them) probably do at least as good a job as paid publisher’s readers, in my experience. Writers of logic-related books, at any rate, should be familiar enough with LaTeX to be able to do a decent typographical job (various presses make their LaTeX templates freely available — you can start from one of those if you don’t feel like wrangling with the memoir class to design a book from scratch). Setting up Amazon print-on-demand is a doddle. You’ll need somehow to do your own publicity. But none of these should be beyond the wit of most of us!
The major downside of do-it-yourself publishing, of course, is that you don’t get the very significant reputational brownie points that accrue from publication by a good university press. And we can’t get away from it: job-prospects and promotions can turn on such things. So they will matter a great deal in early or mid career.
But for those who are well established and nearer the end of their careers, or for the idle retired among us … well, you might well pause to wonder a moment about the point of publishing a monograph with OUP or CUP (say) for £80, when you could spread the word to very many more readers by self-publishing. It seems even more pointless to publish a student-orientated book of one kind or another at an unaffordable price. So I can only warmly encourage you to explore the do-it-yourself route. (I’m always happy to respond to e-mailed queries about the process.)
Finally, I can somewhat shamefacedly add a last row to the table above, about work in (stuttering) progress towards an announced but as yet far from finished paperback:
|PDF downloads||Paperback sales|
|Beginning Category Theory||7482||N/A|
This download figure is embarrassing because, as I’ve said before, I know full well these notes are in a really rackety state. But I can’t bring myself to abandon them. So my logical New Year’s resolution is to spend the first six weeks of the year getting at least Part I of these notes (about what happens inside categories) into a much better shape. I just need to really settle at last to the task and not allow myself so many distractions. Promises, promises. Watch this space.