Digital Dickens: How Scott Sigler is changing the way we read

Downloaded any good books lately? Guy Adams meets Scott Sigler, the podcast king who's changing the way we read

In a one-bedroom flat above a noisy San Francisco street, Scott Sigler is plotting a revolution in the world of books. Sigler is a science-fiction writer with a host of fans, who are described as "junkies" on his website. His work is gripping, pacy, and often stomach-churningly violent. He tells stories that are, as the saying goes, hard to put down.

But what makes Sigler groundbreaking is that most of his novels have never appeared in print. They are broadcast via a small cubicle containing an Apple Macintosh and some recording equipment. That is pretty much all Sigler has needed to become the world's most famous podcast author.

"I sit right here," he says, motioning to a small chair. "Sometimes I'll read for half an hour, sometimes more. I give special voices to each character, and try to make it sound over the top. I might use a guitar song, or heavy metal music. Then it goes online and people can download it for free."

One oddity of the internet revolution has been that, while it changed the face of popular music, authors and their works have remained relatively untouched. Some bookstores were rudely shunted out of business by Amazon, but the creative bit happens much as it always has; writers produce fiction that's packaged and sold in books. There has been no real market for electronic fiction.

Until Sigler. His novels were all first released as audio books, free for online subscribers to download, one episode at a time, over a few months. His first, Earthcore, notched up 10,000 listeners. Its sequel, Ancestor, managed 30,000. A third, The Rookie, cemented his status as a Dickens for the digital age.

This week, he will try to reach the traditional book-buying public with Infected, a physical book. The gory tale of a parasite from space that latches on to human hosts is published in the UK by Hodder as part of a five-book deal.

The book's progress will be closely watched. Most aspects of its marketing turn publishing wisdom on its head. Publishers tend to guard copyright jealously, but Sigler has released a free audio version online, and has let fans download a PDF version via his website.

Sigler's thinking – and this is the revolutionary bit – is that it's worth making commercial sacrifices to secure a fan base, because fans will always want physical copies of the books, even if they've already heard an audio version for free.

"The only way to get people's attention these days is to give them something for free," Sigler says. "If someone walks into a bookstore, why would they pick up a Scott Sigler when there's a Stephen King? They won't. So I give my content away, give readers a chance to try it for free. And if they like my stuff, then guess what: they'll go out and buy the book."

It has taken Sigler, 38, some time to persuade a major publisher to back his thinking. Having written since childhood, he began podcasting in 2004, after decades of failing to make it into print. "I was working in IT marketing, and had discovered podcasting when not many people knew about it," he says. "My theory was that I knew there was a market for my stuff, I knew some people would like it, so long as I could get it out there. If enough people listened, a percentage of them would become fans, and four or five years down the line, they'd pay to buy my books. That's pretty much what happened."

Now, visitors to scottsigler.com are part of an online community that helps to create a "buzz". That buzz can be managed to drive sales by manipulating the online marketplace through Amazon's sales charts. This is the second revolutionary element to Sigler's fiction.

Last year, a book version of Ancestor was published by a tiny firm that sells only via mail-order. Sigler made it to No 7 on the Amazon bestseller list (No 1 in sci-fi) by asking all his fans to buy a copy on the morning of its launch. The book only sold 2,000 copies (its entire print run), but they created a sales spike. "With no marketing budget, no advertising, no media coverage and an artist nobody's heard of, we managed to drive it up to No 7," Sigler says.

Sigler's success has been a boon to other podcast authors, who mostly publish on www.podiobooks.com. Several now have traditional book deals, with debuts coming from JC Hutchins, also a science-fiction writer, and the crime writer Seth Harwood.

Sigler seems to have star potential – and if the way he's selling Infected works, it could help the world of publishing to avoid the fate of the music industry in the online age. "Tech-nology will eventually change how books are written," Sigler says. "Now, hopefully, I'm ahead of the game. By the time people like Stephen King wake up to the internet, they'll be on an equal playing field to people like me."

'Infected' is published by Hodder (£6.99); other work is available on www.scottsigler.com

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'