Can you make & sell an e-book out of community-generated content?


(Anton) #1

Continuing discussion from Ukrainian online community - monetization case:

One of the ideas we’re thinking about is to build a book about cheese making in Ukrainian way, translate it to English and sell as an e-book.

Anyone has any thoughts / experience / recommendations re whether it is a good idea to turn your content generated by community into an e-book and selling it? Is it worth trying or not at all?


(Nick Emmett) #2

My inital thoughts about your post @meglio is around where the content is coming from? Are you creating the content, or are you curating the content from contributions in your community? The route from the answer to that question would likely head in slightly different directions - however, in general, I think the idea is sound and in essence doesn’t sound too far removed from what you get from a lot of blogs out there.


(Sarah Hawk) #3

I like the idea. I have experience with something similar. In a prior community we co-wrote an ebook called Thinking Web: Voices of the Community. You can find more info here. Direct download link here.

It was a mixed success. The book was fun to write and was a great community building tool, but it was a lot of work for me to coordinate and we decided to give it away for free (mostly to avoid complicated copyright issues).

SitePoint was already an ebook publisher which made things easy for us.

If you are planning to use existing content into an ebook then a lot of the work and stress would be removed. There are lots of ebook tools online. BUT you’ll need to be careful about copyright if you’re selling other people’s work.


(Nick Emmett) #4

The copyright thing is what i had in mind @HAWK - good shout


(Suzi Nelson) #5

It’s hard to make a lot of money directly off of ebooks, BUT you can use it as a great tool to get more people familiar with your products & community. People have used ebooks as a branding move with a lot of success. Be sure to put some strategic call to action statements in there!


(Anton) #6

If you mean the content found in the forums - my contributions to the content as approximately equal to other members. I’d say not more than 5% of text is of my authorship.

Oh, this cancels the main goal with the book I’m pursuing.
May you elaborate re copyright issues?
We use the same license for all content as FeverBee does.


(Sarah Hawk) #7

If you are going to sell content written by others, you have to get them to enter into some form of copyright agreement. I don’t remember the specifics (again, @Ophelie may be able to shed light here) though, I’m sorry.

In our case, we decided that the amount of work required outweighed the potential benefits, but our goal was never to make money, so it might be worth it in your case.


(Ophelie Lechat) #8

I wasn’t around when this specific project launched, but my understanding from the publishing side is that you (as the site owner) are free to use the content of the site in whichever way you’d like if it’s covered in the copyright notice on the site, or if you get explicit written consent from the contributors.

Some communities (like Metafilter specifically state that copyright of each comment is retained by the user. That still leads to some weird situations, like in this thread, where an especially difficult thread was turned into a PDF document, with usernames and sometimes identifying information, without consent. Legally: totally within fair use, since no one was paying for the PDF, and nothing was behind a paywall or subscription wall. Ethically? Not necessarily great.


(Sarah Hawk) #9

Thanks Ophelie. Do you know if there are differences between content extracted from the site and that which is written specifically for the book (in our case it was the latter)?

I also wonder if selling the content is legit. Actually, these might be good questions for @Steve_Combs. Steve, do you understand how the law would be applied in this situation?


(Ophelie Lechat) #10

Gah, another victim of our website migration! I’ll have a look.

Edit: fixed. Direct download link is here


(Anton) #11

What makes this case interesting is that it’s about selling the translated content (English), not the original content (Ukrainian / Russian).

Cause translating changes both the language and the way ideas are expressed, does copyright persist? Every single sentence can be translated in various ways, will multiple translations retain the same license as the original?


(Steve Combs) #12

The rights to use community content depend on the terms of the website. If no terms are published, the author of the comments retains rights to the content.

If you republish content, you would want review the terms closely, and if the rights aren’t clear, get consents or copright assigments from the contributors.

Republishing content for free doesnt make it fair use. There are multiple factors.

Translations are considered derivative works of the original work and permission from the owner of the original work is needed to create and publish the translated content.

The above is based on my experience under US law.

Let me know if anyone has questions.


(Steve Combs) #13

Copyright doesn’t generally protect ideas so there is more flexibility. Recipes, like for cheese, are a special case and can perhaps be copied if you remove creative elements.


(Darren McKay) #14

Interesting conversation, as I’ve had similar thoughts regarding a few long-running threads from my community.

One of them about “unsavoury” office characters, featuring all manner of gripes from workplace colleagues that I think will resonate with a lot of people. There are some VERY funny stories that have been told.