Public Domain Is Your Friend!

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(By Troy Price) You may remember this from the news coverage back in January. The catalog of classic works entering the public domain was so large that it made mainstream news. Since then I researched and have made a plan on how to use some of what has been released to help my podcast. I will share my big idea with you. I hope this gets your creative juices flowing and helps you to realize that the public domain is your friend.

Today, more public domain materials have been cataloged and are readily available than ever before in history. Two major storehouses of public domain materials can be found at gutenberg.org and librivox.org. While the works are not copyrighted and are free to use, these websites request that you reference them as your source. That is no biggie, but is something to remember.

From my research, I have noticed the way people frequently make money from public domain works is to publish multiple works in one book. As an example, the “Author” (someone like you and me) puts together some different sci-fi public domain works titles it The H.G. Wells Inspired Collection and sells a good number of books because no one else has spent the time to pull together those works before. Everybody is happy.

I am going to take this idea one step farther and publish a book based on a public domain work and tweak it to be of specific interest to my podcast listeners. I produce a podcast about my wonderful hometown, Berea, Kentucky. My listeners are the eclectic residents of the town and visiting tourists. Here is my idea, I found Anne of Green Gables on Librivox – to be clear, I found the full text of Anne of Green Gables free for me to use on Libirvox. I created a Microsoft Word file of the text and did a little more research. There are not many people with the last name Shirley, Lynde, Cuthbert, Barry around here, but there are people with the last name Coyle, Vanwinkle, Harris, and Menelaus. I used Word’s Find and Replace feature with those last names and now the people in the Anne story have Berea names. I did the same thing with place names and the story has a local setting. For instance, the new title of my book is Anne of Menelaus Manor. It is clearly something based on the original story, but with an interesting local twist. My last round of editing took a little longer. We don’t talk like people did in the 1800s. I skimmed the whole text and changed outdated terms and phrases for more modern ones.  I changed “scarf pin” for “brooch” to make it seem more in vogue.

With this I have a book of about 100,000 words with only about 30 hours’ worth of work. This is the stage I am at right now. I plan to finish this project up the end of the month. Here are my next steps…

I am going to design and print out the physical book. After looking at the options, I think Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is the solution that is going to work the best for me. The first reason is that the design features are a free service they offer. The second reason is that once I design the book, I can make it available both in print and on Kindle with hardly any extra work. The third reason is the cost of printing 100 books is low enough that I can price my book at $9.99 and make a little less than $2.50 per book.

I think that is a price point where I would feel comfortable asking our local listeners to buy a book to support our show and also be a price point where tourists visiting Berea would want to pick one up for the novelty value (pun intended).

This model is something that could work in conjunction with several genres of podcasts. A leadership podcast could release a low-cost paperback based on public domain leadership works and title them Time-Tested Approaches to Leadership. A health and beauty podcast could publish a book on the beauty practices of previous centuries, with very little work. Comedy podcasts could make any work in the public domain funny by editing the classics to “work blue” – imagine Pride and Prejudice and any infomercial topic would sell.

I am hoping to get my book in our local stores before tourist season. This is a possible timeline for you too if you start now. Think about it…

7 COMMENTS

  1. Brilliant! Something to bear in mind for authors… On the podcasting side, we began our children’s storytelling podcasts (Baalgatha and Myths, Legends and Fairytales of India) using Public domain stories – Panchatantra and Jataka Tales (also known as Aesop’s Fables :-)). It was an easy ‘sell’ to parents-since the content was known to them, their propensity to let their guard down (and concern: will this new show be child-friendly?) was higher. Now that the shows have grown, we tweaked the pitch to say “Our stories are similar to…” We also use material with Creative Commons License- share the love and credits, right!

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