trade secrets, or possibility for social change?

Question: When you come up with a new idea, something different that could be revolutionary, do you keep it to yourself and be the only person who does it, or do you share it and be a pioneer?

This question was brought to mind after numerous conversations I had at the Western Maryland Independent Literature Festival at Frostburg State University. We’ve been to a lot of book fairs over the past year, but this was the only large turnout fair that was only publishers and booksellers. No individual authors. No one selling aluminum siding. Just publishers and booksellers.

Three years ago I found myself in a quandary. I was promoting my first book on a summer time tour and kept running into the question, “Can I get it as an eBook?” after responding yes, I would invariably hear that, “Then I can just buy it online,” and be robbed of the pleasure of selling a copy of my book. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the person actually followed through with the purchase.

Enter the idea: How can you sell eBooks in person? How do you guarantee a sale, even with those who prefer the digital copy? My answer, the use of the ever-present USB flash drive. I made an initial order and began planning the way to properly sell my digital book. I would make it more than just the book. By adding videos and artwork that promoted the book, I would provide a sort of eBook+. I called it my book with Special Features.

When we launched aois21 in 2014, these flash drives were at the center of our sales pitch for bookstores and fairs. This opened the door for us to sell books that were only available electronically. Moreover, we included our author interviews, as well as podcast episodes, to give the reader a fuller picture of the author they are reading. It worked. We had sales at several events and the authors have had success selling the flash drives on their own. We decorate them with the aois21 logo and a printed label of the book cover and it looks just like a stick version of the real thing.

This came to a satisfying step three weeks ago at the Fall for the Book festival when a couple approached my table and said that they had heard about us selling eBooks on flash drives. The fair was lightly attended due to the weather so I doubted that they had heard from someone else. In fact, they told me that they had seen our website and read about it and wanted to see our finished product. They even told me about someone else using the idea, but offering different features at a graduated price point. A novel idea but not one I’m interested in pursuing.

Was this the tipping point? Was this idea finally ready to help bring eBook sales to your friendly, neighborhood book store?

Unfortunately, this plan to conquer in person sales with a digital product hit a snag. How do we persuade customers that the flash drives contain only what we say they do? How, in this age of identity theft, phishing, keyloggers, and fraud, do we get them to trust us?

The best answer I can come up with is to share it. Every book fair we go to, we talk about the flash drives. When meeting several other publishers at Frostburg, I would talk about it at length. Several people told me that they had never considered using them, but will now.

Upon hearing this, I was questioned about why I would give away trade secrets. The issue, I believe, isn’t keeping secrets. It’s creating a verifiable new point of sale for eBooks to build customer trust so that everyone benefits.

I know full well that I am not the first person to think this up. Instead, I will be the person to “shout it from the rooftops.” After all innovation does not occur in a vacuum. If it wasn’t for the advent of these reusable storage devices, we’d be stuck with data CDs, which can be just as untrustworthy and easily damaged. As far as I see it, this should be able to help everyone in the changing culture of the publishing industry.

Now eBook sales do not have to be confined to websites and apps. You can now have the same experience buying an eBook that so many others have had with paperbacks, hardcovers, audiobooks on CDs, and hundreds of other possible transactions. Plus, as a bonus, we can give you that extra bit of insight into our authors. Win=win.