Self-publishing at Amazon

January 15, 2013

Publishing is going through enormous change right now. We found that out for ourselves when we entered the business with our notes for Global Economy, a course in macroeconomics for business students with an international focus. A quick summary of our experience:

  • Materials online.  We have posted most of the materials for the Global Economy course online (see GE materials link to the left). This includes the “notes” for the course (a pdf file) and the statistical programs we used to generate figures. We’ll add more material as time goes by.
  • Amazon publishing.  We also published the notes as a book through Amazon’s CreateSpace facility. We can buy the book ourselves for $4 a copy plus $0.75 shipping, which is cheaper than having it photocopied locally and put into binders. We also have it for sale to others on Amazon for $9.95, of which $2 goes to us and the rest to Amazon. (If we make any money, it will go to the Center to support student research.)
  • Speed.  All of this was incredibly fast. We had 300 copies in hand less than two weeks after uploading the pdf file of the manuscript. Our experience with traditional publishers is that it takes them a year or more to convert a manuscript into a book.
  • Updates are easy.  We plan updates twice a year, as we prepare for teaching in the fall and spring terms. We put a version number on the title page and a date on the copyright page so you can keep track. If we remember, we’ll post old versions as we go along.
  • The manuscript.  We hired a professional copy editor to clean up the manuscript. And we put the whole thing together with TeX, a text-formatting language that automated the layout, table of contents, and so on. Second nature to academics in technical fields, but not something you want to get into on your own.
  • Links. The online pdf has exactly the same content as the published version, but it also has color graphics and links to related materials (blue in the online version). That’s one of the disadvantages of hardcopies, you can’t do this. Amazon hints they can do this on the Kindle, but for technical reasons it’s not clear to us that our formatting would work there. Something to figure out for the future.

Why did we do this? Well, not for the money, that’s for sure! One reason is that we wanted to see how this worked. Another is that we wanted a professional product for our students. Yet another is that we are hoping to build an informal network of people teaching similar topics so that we can share ideas and learn from each other. The last one is in the future, we’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, comments welcome on any aspect of this that crosses your mind.

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One Response to “Self-publishing at Amazon”


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