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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Announcing "The Americans" available in Kindle Format

I'm stepping into the brave new world of self-publishing by making THE AMERICANS available on Amazon.com as an eBook for $1.99.

THE AMERICANS was first produced in 2004. It's the closest thing I ever wrote to a play about 9/11, and it was produced the same month as the Kerry v. Bush election. It's a play that's always been near and dear to me.

For me, the decision to publish it on my own wasn't exactly automatic. In fact, I went back and forth on whether or not it was a good idea. To break it down, briefly:


Quality. The electronic edition of the book, as self-published, is, in formatting, largely indistinguishable from an eBook from a major publisher. Downloading the play will not feel, on your device, as if you've gotten a lower quality item than one that would be available from a mainstream publisher.

Availability. It makes my book available for purchase immediately for everyone (as long as they have a Kindle) on one of the largest retail outlets in the world. When self-publishing required physical copies that you had to try to sell on your own, this was a much tougher model. Now, the item is available for everyone with Internet access and interest. (Oh, and a Kindle.)

Cost. The price is right for self-publishing on the Kindle: free. It cost me, essentially, nothing but time to publish the book this way.

Exposure. Simply put, my goal is to get my work in people's hands. Right now, this play is living on my laptop and in my memory. It hasn't found a traditional publisher. This way, the play gets more possible readers than it would otherwise. I believe strongly that it's a play people will love. Shouldn't I take advantage of every method available, new and old, to bring it to people?

Royalties. Each copy of this book I sell gets me as much in royalties as a copy of GLEE CLUB. In some cases, more.


Reputation. I honestly have been concerned that by publishing a book in this format without the traditional blessing of a publisher, would damage how other writers and how publishers saw me. I am published, and proudly, by Samuel French and Playscripts. Still, even with those very mainstream blessings, I was concerned that self-publishing was viewed as a bit of a low-rent move. I don't want publishers to see me as competing with them, or to be viewed by other playwrights as just dumping lesser works into the market because I couldn't get the published elsewhere. Perhaps this is a concern that's unfounded, but I'm sure I'm not alone in an aversion to being perceived this way. Traditional routes to publishing and production are viewed as more legitimate than these alternatives right now.

Marketing. To get the word out about a self-published title, I have only my own time and resources and efforts. DPS, Playscripts, Samuel French - they all have catalogues, markets, strategies. They work to get your work produced and sold because it's in their own interests financially. Self-publishing, even in this format, means that you're an army of one.

Legal. My book offers general legal language about production rights and my ownership of them. Still, if someone downloaded this book and decided to perform the play without obtaining the necessary permissions, it would be up to me to chase them down, try to obtain royalties, arrange an agreement. Play publishers are extremely careful on that front. For example: my mother enthusiastically purchased several copies of GLEE CLUB from Playscripts. Apparently, she had to show them that she was not, in fact, a school getting copies with the intention of performing the play without obtaining the rights. In short: they ask, they care, and that's for my benefit as much as their own.

Gray Area

Price Point. The Americans is priced at $1.99 for several good reasons. One is that I believe that people are more likely to click and buy without haggling with themselves at that price. You could, out of curiosity, download the play without feeling like you just gave up a movie ticket. Also, it's an eBook, not a physical edition. My costs are low, you don't get an actual "thing" that cost money to produce. It makes sense to charge less in that regard. Then again, are you less likely to buy one of my other plays at a higher price, considering you can get this one at $1.99? Do I begin to drive the value of my own work (and the work of others?) down by offering this play at such a low price? Am I competing with myself? Are people less likely to buy WHEN IS A CLOCK for $9.95 if they can get THE AMERICANS for $1.99? Or will easy access to this play increase the visibility and interest in my other work?

The Limits of the Format. As of now, the book is available only for the Kindle. That means if you want a physical copy of THE AMERICANS... well, you're basically out of luck. That limits the reach inherently. I may try to expand into other devices, but it's very hard to tell if it's worth the effort. Making things available through Apple is, as far as I can tell, a complex process. Making THE AMERICANS available on the Nook or other eReaders might be worthwhile, and I'm open to suggestions. For now, Amazon's device and store seem the most popular.

Photo: Vince Gatton in THE AMERICANS

No matter what, it'll be an intriguing experiment. It's my hope that as I try this out, I can check in with all of you about how it's going, what I'm learning. Maybe more playwrights out there will try this. Who knows?

I am, regardless, very interested in what you think and in your feedback. What do you think of the pros and cons that I've written above? If you do buy the book, how does it look? How's the formatting? Is it a fun experience to buy it, or a bit of a drag? Are you a book lover who's sort of against eBooks on principle, or an enthusiast for this type of thing? I'm sure there are plenty of ways to view this project, and I'd love to discuss it.

Regardless, if you do have a Kindle and you're a supporter of my work, go ahead and purchase THE AMERICANS today. It couldn't be easier or cheaper, and it's a great play.

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