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Conditional Payment Systems

Experiments with online publishing of full-length works continue. As noted here yesterday, Roger Williams has posted his science fiction novel, The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect, on Kuro5hin. Williams plans to publish a physical version of the book if possible:

As part of the deal wherein I mooched the web hosting and support for this online project, I offered to make preparations for publishing it as a book, bound on paper and all that.

What makes this possible is Book On Demand publisher Xlibris.com. For a modest fee, they will electronically design and typeset the book, and make it available for you to order online. While the exact price will depend on page count it appears a trade paperback copy of The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect would cost you about US$20, about US$5 of which would return to me as a royalty.

It appears that I would need what they call "basic service" in order to accommodate the formatting of the novel. This requires an up-front payment of $500 on my part.

The offer I am making is this: If 100 people e-mail me and promise to buy a copy of the novel when it's available, I will contract with Xlibris and have it done. This is just to cover my costs. I won't ask for money up front. I expect that this will either happen in relatively short time, or it won't ever happen at all.

I have also put a tip jar on this site, and I will put all tip money directly toward the Xlibris charge. If I get $200 in tips, I'll only require 60 people to sign on instead of 100. If you really want your copy badly, you could just give me a $500 tip and I'll get right on it :-)

I sent a tip to Roger -- mostly simply to thank him for the reading experience, though helping him towards his goal of physically publishing the book played a role -- but realized that the existing PayPal system is insufficient for his needs. What Roger and others need is a conditional payment system.

In this case, the conditional payment system might take the following form: an interested reader would agree to pledge $25 to Roger, which would be deducted from the reader's account and placed into escrow. If Roger's book was published in physical form by a specified date, then Roger would receive the $25 from escrow -- minus a condition verification fee -- and the reader would receive a copy of the book. If, on the other hand, the book was not published by that date, then the $25 would be taken out of escrow and returned to the reader. (Presumably the originator of a conditional transaction would have to post a small bond to cover verification costs if the condition is not met and purchasers' money returned.)

We need conditional payments, micro-payments, and other innovative payment systems in order to fully enable free enterprise in intellectual property in a post-P2P world -- the sooner, the better.

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