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A couple of years ago I had an idea for a book, assembled a group of fellow-researchers to write the chapters and then got into negotiations with a publisher.  Eventually, the negotiations foundered and I decided, with my co-authors’ agreement, to self-publish through Apple’s iBooks Store.

By early April this year, the chapters were all ready and I began to use iBooks Author to prepare the e-book.  iBooks Author is Apple’s free e-book production software, which is as easy to use as a word processor and has the advantage of having templates available for the layout.  Preparation of the e-book simply involved cutting and pasting text from the Word documents, re-doing some figures, ensuring that the formatting was consistent, copy-editing the texts and the reference lists, confirming urls and archiving Web documents to WebCite.  Time-consuming, but quite straightforward.

I then had to register with Apple as a publisher: I happen to own a company, which I use for some of my work, so it was easy to establish a commercial identity and to use this in registering.  I also had to have an ISBN for the book: this, also, was straightforward, but I had to buy a minimum of ten ISBNs at a total cost of £120.00.  Just about all countries have an ISBN agent; in the case of the UK it is Nielsen BookData.

I also had to obtain an Employer Identification Number from the US Internal Revenue Service (even though the company has no employees) to ensure that I did not pay taxes on any income from the book to the USA, but only to the UK tax authorities.  This can be done over the phone, but it took some time for the ID to appear on the IRS database and, as a result, Apple could not, initially, confirm the ID.

The process dragged on, because Apple could not confirm the EIN I supplied, and the registration was accepted only on the 29th May, almost a month after submitting the information.

However, at this point I could now upload the book.  Once this is done, the book goes into Apple’s review process and, of course, rejection is always a possibility. In my case, the book was accepted, but a query was raised regarding the use of “iBook” rather than “iBooks” at one point in the book.  Unfortunately, I did not receive a message to this effect, although I was told that the system would automatically generate one.  I ought to have received that message the day before I went on holiday, but, in fact, only received the information on my return, some three weeks later, when I queried what was happening.

When a query of this nature is raised, the text must be corrected and the entire book must be uploaded once again. This was done a couple of days ago and I now await final confirmation that the book is available. The review is supposed to take only 24 hours, but perhaps at holiday time things slow down a little.

It has been instructive, as a member of the eBooks Project research team, to engage in this self-publishing exercise, since it gives us direct experience of the process.  It seems to have taken a long time from raising the idea to having the book available but, of course, actually producing the text is the time-consuming part.  When we consider that the period between registering the intention to publish with Apple to the appearance of the book in Apple’s iBook Store is only a couple of months, the advantages of e-book self-publishing, compared with printed book publishing will be obvious to anyone who has published with a commercial publisher.

From my perspective the big advantages lie in having complete control of the process rather than having to respond to the demands of the publisher’s schedule.  I also have complete control over the design of the book, it’s content, and the features I want to employ, such as having live links to cited documents.

One disadvantage of publishing only through Apple is that readers need an Apple product (from iPhone and iPad to iMac desktop) to read the book.  Consequently, I am now preparing an alternative version of the book for use on other devices.  A number of possibilities exist to achieve this, the most likely being to use an e-publishing service such as Smashwords.  To do this, I need to prepare a Word document, formatted to satisfy Smashwords’ requirements.  Smashwords then converts the Word document to multiple e-book formats for everything from the Sony e-reader and the Kobo devices to Android devices.  It will then distribute the book to whichever publishing services you select, including Apple’s iBooks Store – but that can be excluded in my case.

The costs involved in producing this e-book have been relatively small, the only ‘real’ money to change hands has been the £120 spent on ISBNs, of which £12 contributes to the costs of this book.  Everything else has involved only time – the time of the chapter authors, and my time as editor.  The publishing costs of Apple are met by it taking a percentage of the selling price: if you keep the price to $9.99 or lower, Apple keeps 30% of the income and the author gets 70% – which you can compare with the typical 10% royalties given to authors by commercial publishers.

It might be argued that publishers provide additional services, but it is difficult to determine exactly what these are.  For example, the author will have to provide the index to the book – either him/herself or by hiring someone to do it; the author will have to proof-read the final text and make all necessary corrections to the reference lists; the author will have to provide camera-ready copy of the text and will have to produce the figures and supply them in jpg form to the publisher.  Some publishers are even requiring authors to do the copy-editing or to pay a professional copy-editor to do it. So publishers are left with sales and marketing and in my experience they rely heavily on the ability of authors either to provide them with appropriate marketing outlets, and/or to engage directly in marketing through discussion list announcements, delivery of pamphlets at conferences, or whatever.

Having been through this experience I can see no advantage whatsoever in using a commercial publisher to publish a scholarly text.  Such books will never sell in their millions – no academic author is likely to get rich on his or her research outputs in the form of monographs.  The e-publication process is straightforward and relatively easy and a good deal faster than publishing in print and, priced right, you are likely to sell many more e-books than printed books.

The book I’m talking about is:

Wilson, T.D. (Editor) (2013). Theory in information behaviour research.  Sheffield, UK: Eiconics Limited. 239 pp. ISBN 9780957495708  $9.99

available soon (I’ll update this message when it happens) from the Apple iBooks Store