Will Fatbrain.com’s New Model Work?

A couple of weeks ago, online bookseller Fatbrain.com introduced a new model for selling books, magazine articles and other documents that it says will radically change the publishing world.

Before the announcement, the Palo Alto, California-based Fatbrain.com had focused on selling business and professional books. But with the advent of its new system, called eMatter, magazine publishers as well as individuals will be able to sell digitized documents online — and earn royalties on every copy sold.

You’re probably saying that it’s no big deal, since plenty of Web sites already do that. But the big difference is that eMatter’s service is a new way to sell unpublished material — including documents such as company research papers or notes from a conference. Fatbrain.com says that authors will be able to use the service to sell their work directly to readers — eliminating the cumbersome filtering process of publishers and editors.

Profits Split Down The Middle

Fatbrain.com contends that this new model is to writers what MP3 is to musicians. In addition, it points out that there has never been an economical channel to sell the 10 to 100-page document. Using Fatbrain.com’s new secure Web site, the author can simply set a price, provide a summary of the material and then place the work into one of the thousands of subject categories.

Once that’s done, authors will receive 50 percent royalties for each sale of work posted. However, as an introductory promotion, Fatbrain.com will offer 100 percent royalties on material sold on eMatter between October 18th and January 1st.

No Filter Equals Chaos

At first blush, this innovation sounds pretty good — especially to any writer who has received a rejection letter or has had their copy brutally edited. However, it is actually a recipe for chaos.

Without the eyes of an experienced editor, any article could end up not just grammatically flawed — but even libelous. Then there’s the problems of fact checking, plagiarism and copyright infringement. What’s more, I predict that eMatter will end up filling its site with reams of inappropriate, amateurish and non-selling digital drivel.

But what about the free market? Doesn’t it make sense to let the readers decide what’s crap and what’s not? That’s a fair argument, but I seriously doubt that most users will have the patience or the stomach to wade through an ocean of digital blather for the possibility of finding a pearl.

Stuff Against The Wall

In all fairness, I can’t fault Fatbrain.com for coming up with and trying the model. As the adage goes: If you throw enough stuff against the wall, some of it is bound to stick. But for me, I’d much rather buy a book I know has at least made it through the filtering process.

Sadly, I think Fatbrain.com’s eMatter will end up becoming nothing more than a digital vanity press — stinking up cyberspace.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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