Tuesday 9 October 2012

Tools of Change Frankfurt: Mission Publishing

After a brief spell setting up the ALPSP stand in Hall 4.2 over lunch, I popped into the Publishing Innovators session back at Tools of Change chaired by Sophie Rochester from The Literary Platform.

This last session in this stream for the day was an interesting dip in the water of 'Mission Publishing'. Here's a brief summary of some of the projects that were showcased. They may - or may not - provide some inspiration on how to drive engagement and get funding.

Jesse Potash from Pubslush described this global crowdsourcing platform for books. They believe that crowdsourcing or funding is ideal for books because publishing when compared with other creatgive industries has:

  • Cost - low barrier to cost as compared to films, for example
  • Components - film or music album has so many more components - credits are long - books are shorter
  • Skill - at the end of the day NYT 85% of Americans think they can (and will) write a book in their lifetime (whether or not it's good is enough matter)
  • Product - not what you expected (e.g. let down by X Factor winner's album so don't buy it - with a book you can read a few pages - try before you buy.)

His advice for effective crowdsourcing/funding is to focus on four things:
  1. fundraising
  2. market analytics
  3. services
  4. guidance

Fundraising can help make a book project happen by resourcing high quality product (editorial, design); other publishing services (e.g. marketing, translations, publicity); replace advances; and provide a tangible demand measurement (40k likes on facebook may not equate to $500).

Matthew Crockatt from And Other Stories outlined their philosophy which is about combined intelligence of editors, readers, translators, critics, literary promoters and academics. They are a not-for-profit - community interest company who make decisions based on what they think is good writing and a good way of working. Their supporters can take part in determining the direction they go in and they try to be as ecologically minded as possible (e.g. using a local printer). The profits are re-invested in the work, allowing them to pay translators as well, for example. They also operate a subscription model: their first four books had 120 subscribers. The subscribers pay money up front without knowing what will be published and they are sent them in the post when available.

They include a lot more on the website than just the books including deeper information on the authors. Their mission: it's not about them publishing great writers, if they bring a great writer to the fore and a bigger publisher wants to publish them, that's great. On an international note they have reading groups arranged around a particular language.

Eric Hellman from Gluejar, Inc. outlined the vision for Unglue.it - which is about creating the Public Sector for eBooks. They want to provide a platform whereby you can give the whole world a book you love. The agent for the public sector is libraries. They convert that content into public good. However, when print transitions into digital space it becomes much harder to do that. When libraries try to do that, it ends up conflicting with the channel. In the US the big six publishers are very hesitant to lend those books. That is why they believe there is a need for a new public sector for digital books.

There are a multitude of initiatives including: Internet Archive; Ebook vendors; PLoS; Project Gutenberg; Europeana; DPLA; BookShare; and WorldCat to name but a few. However, there isn't a good way to bring in-copyright books that might not be selling into public sphere.

The Unglue.it business model:

  • library distribution = zero marginal costs
  • run a crowdfunding pledge drive for every book published to cover fixed costs to produce it
  • readers can choose the books they love
  • rights holders can set price they need to cover costs
  • so no need to wait 150 years to wait for the book
  • you can launch out to networks who may be interested
  • when funding level is reached, release a CC license on the book.

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