Last year, author Tim Ferriss turned to BitTorrent to market his newest book, the Four-Hour Chef, when the biggest bookseller in the U.S., Barnes & Noble, refused to stock the Amazon-published title. Ferriss’ campaign proved a success, with the book selling 250,000 copies on the back of some 2 million promotional content bundles — chapters of the book and supplementary materials — downloaded on BitTorrent. Now BitTorrent is banking on that success to try to get more authors on to its site.
Playing on its former reputation as a place to pick up illegally distributed content, BitTorrent today published an informal how-to guide for authors, encouraging them to “hack publishing” and market their books like startups, complete with “iterative release schedule and spreadable, targeted content.”
While BitTorrent does not intend to be a publisher or distributor of books itself, it sees a role in helping authors break down their work to promote their main product in a different way. It suggests that chapters should be thought of as tracks from an album.
“This book-as-album strategy gives authors like Ferriss a significant advantage. Releasing chapters as singles creates a continuous news cycle during pre-launch promotion. It effectively creates radio play; increasing the chances that you’ll get heard with sample content. At the same time, it provides the flexibility to micro-target: using different chapters to reach and activate different readers.”
It’s also a sign of how authors are increasingly taking a bigger role in general in promoting their work in a digital content world.
BitTorrent’s focus on authors is part of a multi-year mission at the company become a go-to place for legit content creators to host and distribute legit work. A good amount of effort has been put into areas like video and music. A deal with DJ Shadow last year pioneered a revenue-sharing model, in which free DJ Shadow music content came bundled with other products inserted by paying marketers, part of a content package the company offers called the BitTorrent Bundle. Along with that, it has launched a file-storage and sending service called SoShare, geared at extra-large, media-rich files, to help those in the creative community better collaborate.
And books have also played a role. Matt Mason, BitTorrent’s VP of marketing, notes that a partnership with the Internet Archive, has “over 1 million legal and licensed books available.”
Most people out there don’t have the profile of Tim Ferriss, who had already made a name for himself with two previous books, Four-Hour Workweek and Four-Hour Body, before moving on to the Four-Hour Chef. BitTorrent notes that Ferriss released the first chapter of his book, along with 680MB of behind-the-scenes content on BitTorrent, using six promotions over 60 days (yes this sounds a little like a fad diet). This content, BitTorrent says, was downloaded over 2 million times. As a result of that, 293,936 clicked on to the book’s trailer YouTube; 327,555 clicked on to the author’s website — making BitTorrent its biggest traffic generator; and 880,009 clicked on to the book’s Amazon page: 880,009, resulting in 250,000 copies of the book itself getting sold.
You can argue that his success on BitTorrent was more due to Ferriss’ earlier fame than the BitTorrent distribution model. But for those willing to rethink how to market their books, it could be an easy enough investment to make anyway: Matt Mason, VP of marketing for BitTorrent, points out to TechCrunch that all of the Bundles that BitTorrent has piloted to take have been a “zero cost” to the content creators.
Indeed, it seems that, for now, the main purpose of growing the population of content creators on the site is to grow BitTorrent’s scale and profile more than direct revenue sources. BitTorrent itself is not necessarily interested in taking on a bigger content producing role for itself in the process. ”BitTorrent is not the publisher or distributor,” says Mason. “[But] the publishing industry has changed. Launching a book today is much like being your own startup. BitTorrent’s role, specifically the role of the BitTorrent Bundle, is to offer a new tool for content creators to engage with a mass audience. The BitTorrent Bundle hands the power of a torrent over to the content creators.”