What It's About
Engineer turns a page to a new passive income stream through old titles.
Words of Wisdom
Aaron says that picking which books to publish is ultimately more art than science. It’s difficult to gauge the commercial success of each book you publish since there are many factors involved. It’s more useful to focus on tangible skills such as digital formatting, understanding how publishing platforms work and selling the books with the right message.
A lot of content exists in the public domain and can be used by anyone. Many books and characters, such as those created by Disney, were originally from the public domain. It’s up to you what you do with this content—if you want, you can start a publishing business just as Aaron did.
Notes from Chris
It’s said that a book is worth reading if it gives you even just one idea that you can use. This has certainly been true for Michigan-based Aaron Kerr, albeit not in the way you might expect. As his wife was reading the popular Anne of Green Gables series to their daughters, she noticed that the Kindle version she was reading from had lots of errors and was poorly formatted. The family had been buying the Kindle version of each book in the series, and this was a major disappointment. Even though there was little regret, since each book cost just 99 cents, it didn’t make sense that the available copies of such a classic were of such low quality. Aaron knew he could do better, and he also knew that it was perfectly legal for him to do so. The copyright protection for classics such as Anne of Green Gables would typically have expired if they were old enough. This meant that such books were in the public domain and could be used in any manner. The first thing that he did was to look on Amazon for another series of Anne of Green Gables. After purchasing a series for just $1.99, he reviewed the pages for typo errors and started to get them formatted properly. With prior experience doing Kindle formatting, this did not pose a serious challenge, although it was time-consuming. The only actual expense that Aaron incurred was purchasing a high-quality stock photograph for $18, which he used for the book cover. He then uploaded the entire series of books onto Amazon and priced them for just $0.99. In other words, you could spend less than a dollar to download the series, not just one of the books. To sweeten the deal, he also included in his listing links to free audiobooks which were available on the Librivox project. Anyone looking for Anne of Green Gables would see that this offer stood out. With this effort, Aaron had went from scratching his own itch to hoping he could earn a few dollars a month. Things went as he expected at first—it sold about 20-30 copies in the next couple of days after he published the series. But the numbers increased exponentially shortly after. There was a day where the number of books sold jumped to 2,100. Then another day where he would wake up to find that he had sold over 7,300 copies. The Anne of Green Gables series would go on to sell over 65,000 copies in four months and take the #1 spot for Overall Bestselling Book on Kindle, if only for a few minutes. The success of the series demonstrated to Aaron that public domain publishing could become a viable side business for him. With a background in web development, he knew that he had the necessary skills to continue. Under the brand Timeless Reads, Aaron would go on to publish several other collections. Moving forward, Aaron advises people to take advantage of digital publishing through Amazon and other platforms. With low barriers to entry and a huge market of ebook readers, lots of people can make money publishing public domain content. This has certainly proved to be true for Aaron, with him averaging $1,400/month in book royalties over six years—and occasionally a lot more during the months when he’s landed a hit. Much of this income is entirely passive, although Aaron wants to be clear that he’s been successful because he’s continued to put out new titles. Over time, revenue from the older titles tends to dry up. Further putting his knowledge to good use, he now even has his own course on public domain publishing as well. The best part about this adventure has been Aaron’s ability to combine his passion for publishing with his skill in technology. Having sat through bad copies of the classics, he is now able to produce quality copies of books for families to enjoy. And as a bonus, he’s been able to build a better relationship with his two daughters by reading them many of the books. It’s a timeless—yet modern—example of creative thinking applied to action.
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
- Timeless Reads: Turn a page—head on over to Aaron's website to learn more about this engrossing side hustle!
- WordPress: Aaron used WordPress to set up his website, and here you can learn how to install your own WordPress site in 5 minutes
- T-Shirts on Amazon Make $17,000 in a Month: A former corporate employee in Ireland runs a merchandising hustle on Amazon.com that brings in as much as $17,000 in profit in a single month. She does this with no inventory, no risk, and no paid traffic
- Make Extra Money Using Merch by Amazon: A no-risk model to earn passive income by uploading t-shirt designs to Amazon.com
- Architect Changes Commuting, One Pocket-Sized Book at a Time: A Chicago-based architect makes access to classical literature easier for readers, raising $50,000 on Kickstarter along the way
- Spanish-Language Bible App Generates 1 Million Downloads: Opportunity knocks for a Utah accountant and leads to a fortuitous side hustle making $70,000 in one year with a $0.99 app
- Avid Reader Sells Used Books On Instagram: An IT analyst makes page-turning profits after building a dedicated audience of book enthusiasts. You can make money without a large following!
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