UPDATE: On April 22, 2013, Operation Ebook Drop was discontinued. My thanks to Ed Patterson for managing this great initiative, and thanks also to the thousands of Smashwords authors who participated. This post will remain for historical purposes only, and may inspire others to do similar non-profit volunteer efforts.
The other day on the Amazon Kindle message boards, Smashwords author Ed Patterson met a U.S. soldier stationed in Iraq who wanted to download ebooks for his Kindle, yet Whispernet (Amazon's wireless download service) didn't work in Iraq.
Ed offered to email the soldier all 13 of his ebooks, for free. The soldier gratefully accepted.
Following the chance encounter with the soldier, Ed, himself an Army veteran, queried other indie authors on the Kindleboards message boards, asking if they too would be willing to offer their ebooks for free to troops deployed overseas.
In a matter of days, about twenty authors volunteered their books. Almost immediately, Ed began receiving additional requests for ebooks from soldiers and their families.
Ed and some of the authors started using Smashwords as the platform for distributing the ebooks to soldiers. Using the Smashwords Coupon Generator feature, authors are emailing 100%-off coupons to the soldiers.
I stumbled across the thread at Kindleboards yesterday, and was pleased to learn about Ed's project and see so many Smashwords authors participating. I immediately decided I wanted to get Smashwords more involved.
I got on the phone with Bill Kendrick, Smashwords' CTO (and chief magician), and together we brainstormed how we could help take Ed's campaign to the next level. Then late last night, Ed and I spoke on the phone for more brainstorming.
What began as "Operation Kindle Ebook Drop" has now morphed into something much bigger - "Operation Ebook Drop," in recognition of the multiple ebook-reading devices - cell phones, Kindles, Sony Readers, laptops, etc. - people use to read ebooks.
With Ed's encouragement, over the next week or so, we'll begin notifying our 1,300+ Smashwords authors and publishers about the opportunity to participate in Operation Ebook Drop.
The campaign, as we kick it off today, will roll out in stages.
For stage one, we'll encourage Smashwords authors to email Ed to opt-in to participate. On a regular basis, as Ed receives requests from deployed soldiers, he'll pass these requests on to the authors, who will directly email the soldiers hyperlinks to their book pages at Smashwords, along with Smashwords coupons which the troops can redeem to download the book in multiple formats, readable on any e-reading device.
For stage two, we'll look to create a more automated system of matching soldiers with ebooks, so that rather than the manual process described above, we'll create a catalog, either hosted at Smashwords or by the military, where service members can access the books.
The biggest challenge we'll face is authentication, but we think this can be achieved with some simple hyperlinks originating from within secure websites and intranets operated by the military. Ed has already started reaching out to different military branches to explore opportunities for collaboration on this important project.
How to Participate
Authors and Publishers - Operation Ebook Drop has been discontinued. Here's how author's created coupons: To create a 100%-off coupon, log in to your Smashwords account and click on the Coupon Manager link. Ed will email you book requests, and then you simply email the soldier a hyperlink to your book page, and the corresponding coupon code. From your Dashboard, coupon redemptions will show up in your Sales & Payment History Report, and you'll also receive instant email notification. If you're not yet a publisher with Smashwords (why not?), you can learn how publish with us by visiting our How to Publish with Smashwords page.
Deployed troops - Operation Ebook Drop has been discontinued. Here's how service members created redeemed coupons: All coalition military personnel deployed overseas who need multi-format ebooks are eligible. According to Ed, "If you're overseas and away from your home and loved ones, your dependence on reading might increase - and so we a gifting you ebooks for Kindle, Sony, iPhone, Blackberry etc." For free ebooks, please email Ed at the address above. Please note that the ebooks you receive may be shared with fellow deployed service members, but may not be distributed or shared elsewhere. Please also consider the coupon codes you receive as privileged information, not to be shared elsewhere. The participating authors are pleased to offer you their books.
Where to Learn More
Operation Ebook Drop has been discontinued. The unofficial staging area for Operation Ebook Drop campaign is over at the Kindleboards message boards. Check it out, help out, and support the young men and women in uniform with some great reads! Operation Ebook Drop also has its own web site, here.
October 15, 2009 Update: Ed Patterson and I were interviewed at PodioRacket tonight with an update on Operation eBook Drop. Listen to the interview here.
October 31, 2010 Update: Ed Patterson informs me over 500 indie authors are now participating in Operation Ebook Drop. Awesome! Congrats to all.
April 22, 2013 Update: Ed Patterson informs me that Operation Ebook Drop has been discontinued. Ever since the pull-out of troops from Iraq, and now the wind-down in Afghanistan, the need for the service has diminished. My thanks to Ed for his great volunteer effort, and thanks also to the thousands of Smashwords authors who supported this.