The publishing industry (understandably) made a lot of noise last November when the news broke that self-improvement author Tim Ferriss would be promoting his newest book project, The 4-Hour Chef, on BitTorrent, a site that will probably always be associated with illegal online file-sharing.
The promotion—a free, downloadable BitTorrent bundle that includes interviews, candid author photos, the first chapter of the book and more—was at least partly conceived as a response to Barnes & Noble, which has publicly refused to carry any books published by Amazon, its top competitor. According to an article by USA Today reporter Dierdre Donahue, a number of independent bookstores have followed B&N’s boycotting lead, also vowing never to sell an Amazon-published title.
But regardless of whether the Amazon-banning booksellers are responding from a place of sheer jealousy or pure business-minded competition, the plan doesn’t seem to have had much success. On December 29, Tim Ferriss posted a status update on his Facebook fan page claiming that his BitTorrent Bundle had so far been downloaded 1,159,005 times. And certainly more important—at least from a financial point of view—the book itself has since gone on to become a run-away bestseller, charting on all the major lists.
Yes, you could certainly argue that these days, just about any Tim Ferriss project, published through just about any venue, is going to become a bestseller. And you’d probably be right. But the larger point, I’d say, was the Ferriss-BitTorrent collaboration itself: An unusual digital publishing experiment that was launched in an effort to solve a frustrating, modern-day publishing problem. And furthermore, as Ferriss wrote in a November 30 blog post:
“The BitTorrent conversion is NUTS. Of 210,000 downloads (of this bundle) earlier this week, more than 85,000 clicked through “Support the Author” to the book’s Amazon page. We all had to triple and quadruple check that to believe it.”
It’s probably a good lessen for content creators and publishers alike to keep in mind, especially when you consider that just about every publishing venture today is frustrating, and risky, and a dozen other potentially negative adjectives.
To put it another way: There’s probably a solution out there, somewhere. The trick seems to involve some combination of being creative enough to dream it up, and being brave to give it a try.