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KitGuru interviews Story Bundle founder, Jason Chen

If you've been reading the news here at Kitguru for any reasonable period of time, you know we're big fans of the Humble Bundle. Specifically I, Jon, am a big fan of the Humble Ebook Bundle, because I'm a self-published author and we need all the help we can get. However, Humble Bundle isn't the only group looking to push forward artists at a reasonable price with no DRM, Story Bundle is doing it too – in fact, according to the founder and ex-Lifehacker editor, Jason Chen, they actually did the Ebook bundle first.

And their focus is on indie authors too, not just popular ones.

With that in-mind, there was no way I was going to miss a chance for a digital sit-down with Mr Chen, especially if it gave me a chance to weasel my way into a future bundle.

KG: So Jason, while I introduced you in the preceding paragraph(s), could you give us a rundown of Story Bundle in your own words for those that skipped ahead?

JC: Sure. StoryBundle's a bundling service, a book discovery service, and a place to support authors and charity while getting great stuff to read. We take a batch of quality books, usually around 6-8, and fit them together in a coherent package (a bundle), and offer readers the chance to name their own price for the set. Readers get to choose how much the books are worth to them, and if they pay over a certain bonus level (usually around $10), they get bonus books as well! Additionally, they even get the choice to donate part of their purchase to one of the charities we support.

KG: With a lot of our readers being gamers, more than a few are likely to compare you to the Humble Bundle, as that's almost exactly their business model too. Do you mind that comparison and is there anything you guys do differently?

JC: We've got no problem being compared to Humble Bundle! They're the first to do digital game bundles, and even though they've diversified and added music and ebooks to their stable, games are still their primary focus. We debuted our bundles before their first ebook bundle, so we'll take credit for being earlier than them to the book front, but it really doesn't matter to us who's first.

As far as what separates us, Humble definitely focuses on their core audience and the types of books they like. They know that their users are made up primarily of gamers, so they focus on Sci-Fi books and books that gamers will enjoy. We at StoryBundle want to be an outlet for all types of books, for all types of authors to showcase their works, so we'll be as likely to do sci-fi as much as fantasy, horror, thriller, women's fiction, romance, young adult and any other genre we think readers of all types will enjoy.

Though Story Bundle does dip into gaming themed books now and again…

KG: Like Humble Bundle however, you guys stick to no-DRM on any of your books. Some companies are looking at new ways to add DRM to digital books, but you guys aren't for that. Why?

JC: We don't use DRM, and we don't think DRM really works in the realm of books (and as such, we don't bother policing to make sure people aren't pirating the books either). What we do believe is that people who don't pay for books do so because of a few reasons, such as not believing that they should pay X dollars for a book they only think is worth half that, or not wanting to be stuck in a specific ecosystem and ereader format, or not thinking the delivery system is convenient enough.

What we do is provide tremendous value in letting our users pick the price they want, meaning THEY get to choose how much they want to pay for the books. And us being DRM-free means you can read the books on any type of ereader, tablet, phone, laptop or anything you want, which actually adds value to the experience. Plus, we allow folks to download the books to their computer to put wherever they like, and we have a handy delivery system that can send the books to their Kindle account so they can access their books wherever the Kindle app is supported–which is basically everywhere.

What platforms like Steam have shown is that if you lower the bar for entry and make your delivery system super convenient, plus if you offer prices that appeal to a large part of your audience, piracy will take care of itself.

KG: While some publishers might cry foul at piracy, a real issue facing authors is a restriction in sales avenues. Book shops are dwindling and the Supermarket and Amazon top 10 seem to be the only real channels. Do you feel Story Bundle can help buck this trend?

JC: One of the big reasons why I started StoryBundle was because, like you said, it's extremely easy to find books that are already popular–books that have already hit the bestseller lists–but it's hard to find indie books that are just as good. We want to be that missing step of finding quality reads that people should know about. It's much more satisfying to be the first one among your friends to find a book and recommend it to everyone.

Story Bundle is keen for you to view your ebook on whatever device you want

KG: While many authors would love to be traditionally published, it's becoming increasingly difficult to break through that first-novel barrier. Agents are similarly hard to attract the attention of. Do you see Story Bundle as a way to bypass this classic approach to “making it?”

JC: Publishing deals are interesting, but I wouldn't call it a complete necessity at this point. Even if you do get a publisher, many times it does very little actual marketing for you, and it's still up to yourself to do a whole lot of legwork and marketing to get eyeballs on your book. You do get professional advice and access to professional editors and artists, but it's nothing you couldn't pay for yourself if you wanted to go the indie route.

We're seeing many more traditionally-published authors go indie because it's more satisfying to control your own fate without having to give up such a big chunk of the earnings to publishers. If you're looking to break in to the industry, I'd say it's for sure a viable path if you work hard and make sure you're putting out the best product you can. I'm not saying it's easy by any means–in fact it's extremely difficult–but finding outlets like StoryBundle to help gain more exposure for your work is going to be a vital part of the indie publishing process.

KG: With that in mind, is there any chance of Story Bundle becoming a publisher in its own right?

JC: StoryBundle is probably not going to be a “publisher” in the sense of traditional or even more independent publishers. We're more focused right now on finding good books and featuring them to our readers. I see more publishing “service” houses rising up, giving independent authors the ability to get editing, cover creation and feedback services for a flat (or otherwise low) fee. With more of these existing, there will be little difference between going it alone and signing a traditional publishing deal (because of the lack of support from publishers unless you're already a big name).

KG: So what direction do you see Story Bundle growing in?

JC: StoryBundle's got lots of plans in the works! But if we're talking long term, over the next few years, we want to make the digital reading experience more social. We know a lot of the fun of reading a book is discussing what happened, what you think is going to happen and what you hope will happen with your friends as you're going through a book. We want to bring that experience to the digital world, and we're exploring the best ways to do that. Imagine having digital book clubs with your friends or even with a huge group of people who love the same books you do!

Of course, we know that reading is a solitary activity for a lot of folks too, and we're working on making the experience easier, better and more convenient for everyone.

KG: Finally, I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering this, for the indie authors just hearing about Story Bundle, how do they go about getting themselves accepted into one of your future bundles?

JC: Indie authors are our focus, so we're always on the look out for new ones. If you want to be part of a future bundle, here's a few tips:

  • Write a great story. This is the big one. Is your book enjoyable?
  • Be fundamentally sound in spelling, grammar and punctuation. A professional editor can really help here.
  • Have strong cover art. Again, a professional designer can be a real benefit. People do judge books by their cover and if you don't care about the first thing people see, you probably don't care very much about the inside of the book either.

KG: Thanks again for speaking with us Jason, I'll have my Ebook over shortly 😉

KitGuru Says: If any of you want to submit your work for consideration for a future bundle, you can do so here.

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