A Fool’s Hope for 2013

Wow, what a year!

59,932 unique visitors
2,678 registered users
12,462 dollars pledged
3 unglued books

If you took part in unglue.it in 2012, by registering, by pledging, by helping to spread the word, by reporting bugs, or by offering your works for ungluing, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It is a great honor to serve as your instrument of change in the world of reading and creating books, even if just a tiny bit.

Here’s what happened:

We unveiled a preview of the website in January. We were immediately reminded of the importance of optimizing slow database queries.

We got a lot of good response, but we waited and waited for PayPal to approve our business. It was very frustrating for us, but in retrospect, the delay allowed us to get the website to a good place.

We switched to Amazon Payments, and at long last, on May 17, we launched. Of the 5 campaigns we were running, one of them really took off. The campaign for Oral Literature in Africa succeeded one month later with 259 pledges totaling a bit more than $7,500.

The remaining campaigns suffered a bit from summer doldrums, but the rug really pulled out from under us when Amazon told us we couldn’t do crowd-funding any more. In the ensuing uproar, we gained over 800 registered users, even while we were closed for business! So there’s always a silver lining.

In September, we helped to release the unglued edition of Oral Literature in Africa.

On October 17, we relaunched with Stripe as our payments provider. We like Stripe a lot, and we hope you do, too.

December saw two campaigns succeed. The unglued edition of The Third Awakening is ready to read, for free. So You Want to be a Librarian will be available soon. Next up is National Book Award winner Love Like Gumbo.

The three books could not be more different from each other. Oral Literature in Africa is an academic classic. The Third Awakening was self-published through Smashwords. And So You Want to be a Librarian is book for prospective library school students from an independent publisher. We don’t know yet what genres of books will best fit the unglue.it model. Trying is really the only way to find out.

I am frequently reminded of the scene in Return of the King where Pippin asks Gandalf if there is still any hope for Frodo and Sam. “There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope” says Gandalf.

It turns out that what we’re trying to do together with your help is really really hard. When we talk to people our model, we find that our task is to create new understandings of what books can be. We have to help people and institutions open themselves to the new possibilities. This sort of change is not easy.

Much change will come to pass in the coming year. Some of that change will be of our own devising, but more of it will come from you, and from people who have not yet heard of unglue.it.

Things are now set in motion that cannot be undone.

5 comments on “A Fool’s Hope for 2013

  1. I’d suggest that you consider to use Bitcoin, the decentralized peer-to-peer money, as an additional option for payments. It has a small but growing international user base and still some growing pains, but the users it has are enthusiastic and vocal and many can afford to spend a few spare bucks. Moreover, in the last months, it did become very easy to send and receive payments with bitcoin – one can use bitinstant and make a deposit at a a local Wal-Mart, and the receiver can just use services like BitPay to convert funds automatically to USD. Plus, it is way cheaper than any traditional option – costs are about 0.005 $ per transaction.

    And, there is perhaps no better example than you why free, decentralized methods of payment are much needed and offer many good possibilities.

    Last not least: Thanks for your great project! Thumbs up!

    • Zafolo, we’re definitely monitoring bitcoin. What it doesn’t have is a “delayed payment” option, which we would need for pledge-then-pay-on-success systems.

  2. So, it looks like you need a specific kind of escrow which is tailored to secure the pledges of your supporters.

    There are two things which come into my mind: You could chose to rely on bitcoin exchanges which can offer securities for funds. For example like bitcoin-central in France, a company owned by Paymium. They are working together with a french payment provider (Aqoba) which makes it possible that Euro and Dollar funds are secured by standard deposit insurance for banks (Fonds de garantie des dépôts). I think the legal procedure involved should also make pretty sure that nobody takes the money and runs away.

    An alternative specific to bitcoin is a technical option. The bitcoin protocol allows for transactions which require more than one digital signature. The standard transaction needs one digital signature to transfer funds. However it is possible that a transaction requires signatures of two parties to be valid, or two out of three, for example. If I am informed correctly, it is also possible to include temporal conditions. This allows for automatic escrow schemes in which people send money to an address, requiring that the acceptance is signed by some specific other party within a specific interval of time, or otherwise the deposit is returned to them. This is attractive because it is very secure and works automatically within the normal transaction system, without any additional cost. This means that it does not depend on trust or functionality of further entities – even if a mayor asteroid would hit and destroy unglue.it and the FED at the same time, depositors would get their coins back. Because of the automation, this makes it feasible to handle a huge number of small contributions.

    The downside of this second approach is that it is not yet available in the standard client software. But such functions probably offer a very important extension as the whole idea of bitcoin is build around the corresponding principles of decentralization and direct authentication. So it might be interesting enough for the bitcoin developers to include it soon in the clients. You could talk with Gavin Andresen from the main bitcoin project or the lead developer of the Armory client, Alan Reiner (alan.reiner@gmail.com), whether they can offer support for that.

  3. […] for it. Eric Hellman, head honcho of the Gluejar operation, explains some of those glitches in a first-of-the-year blog post. I admit to being a bit disappointed in the pace, but then I’ve always been impatient. In the […]

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