Cunable by the Numbers

May 26, 2013 | The Publishing Industry

Much has been made of a new service called Cunable. Here’s their description, in their own words:

Calling it self-retailing, Cunable allows all authors, those with or without an existing publishing relationship, to sell from their personal websites. By removing the barriers from retail distribution, Cunable eliminates the retailer channel and strengthens an author’s relationship with their fans, and vice-versa.

Details on the site itself are rather thin on the ground, but we have a bit more from Kevin J. Anderson’s blog.

A Point by Point List

Here’s what I have been able to determine.

  • Cunable isn’t actually allowing an author to sell from their site, regardless of what they say above. Kevin’s books are set up on, not, and there is no brand matching going on so it’s obviously not the same site.
  • Cunable sets up the sales page for the book, not the author.
  • Cunable sells an ebook. 70% goes to the publisher, 30% to Cunable, who then splits that 30% with the author. This will net the author an extra 15% of the sales price in royalties. This will vary, presumably, and we don’t have solid numbers on the split yet.
  • Cunable wil provide sales data on titles sold through their service.
  • To date, we have no info on what’s required for signing up, how payments are handled, how often the royalties are paid to the author, etc etc. But the Cunable Terms and Conditions for customers are human readable, and this bodes well at least.
  • We don’t know how well the downloaded ebooks work on various different devices, nor if DRM is included or excluded.

I guess I’m being rather pedantic about the whole ‘selling from the author’s site’ thing, but accuracy is important to me. In order to make this claim, I would expect Cunable to integrate into an author’s site, for example – or at the very least, open up in an iframe on an author’s site.

This is not necessarily a black mark against them. It’s the web developer in me talking.

What You Should Know

This is a new service. There’s a lot we don’t know yet, and a lot of questions I’d like answered.

First of all: this doesn’t look like a scam. It’s novel, but legit. It actually looks like an interesting idea, if anything – it suggests that Cunable will act like a basic version of Amazon that adds on to an author’s site (though I’m still hoping for some kind of full integration).

Secondly: it’s got a lot of potential, if they add a number of what I would consider to be essential features.

  • Brand matching to the author’s site
  • Read inside function
  • Amazon API access to pull reviews and ratings for individual books
  • Links to other books by the same author/in the same series on each book page

I figure most of this is in the works already.

So here’s what it looks like to me right now: it’s a turnkey ecommerce solution for traditionally published authors. Will it be appropriate for self-published authors? I honestly don’t know, but I suspect not at this point. The indies tend to be all about control, and Cunable currently doesn’t offer much control.

If they develop this platform, and if the stats they provide are more detailed than Amazon’s, then I fully expect this to become a standard on every author’s site. It’s a good idea, and a good business model. It’s just not very well developed at this point in time.

I’m going to be watching this one, and I recommend you do too. Give John Grace (the guy behind the idea) a while to work on it, and we might see something pretty special in six months.