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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Crowdfunding: Can it change the publishing process?

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Crowdfunding is exceptionally popular today, with many people turning to places like Kickstarter to raise funds for their projects. Crowdfunding works like this: an inventor, creator, or whoever can propose a project, and any Joe Shmoe who likes the idea can potentially “invest” in it. Many users offer various incentives and perks to those who help fund the products.

It is no surprise that some aspiring writers have caught the crowdfunding bug to help them cover the overhead costs associated with creating and marketing their projects. Interestingly enough, there are all sorts of fundraising services that are potentially changing the ways some readers get books placed into their hands.

Just recently, for example, we saw the official launch of Unglue.it, a crowdfunding source specifically designed to raise funding for ebooks. As described in the site’s frequently asked questions page:

Unglue.it is a a place for individuals and institutions to join together to give their favorite ebooks to the world. We work with rights holders to decide on fair compensation for releasing a free, legal edition of their already-published books, under Creative Commons licensing. Then everyone pledges toward that sum. When the threshold is reached (and not before), we collect the pledged funds and we pay the rights holders. They issue an unglued digital edition; you’re free to read and share it, with everyone, on the device of your choice, worldwide.

Unglue.it is not a publisher; its purpose is to raise funds to create digital editions of work already in print that readers can download for free. The money is used to buy a creative commons license of the work, but the copyright holders are still free to sell the book in print and digital forms. Of course, authors will need to check their contract terms before submitting their work. The unglue.it team is presenting themselves as a very neutral party in the whole publishing process.

However, Unglue.it is not the only game in town for crowdfunding options. In May 2011, Unbound launched in the UK. On this site, writers can propose an idea, and if there is enough support for it (i.e., enough people are willing to pay to get this thing published), then Unbound will go ahead and, you guessed it, publish it. According to its “Company Information” page:

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The Unbound model is very straightforward: the author pitches an idea and if enough readers support it, the book goes ahead. Unbound is both a funding platform and a publisher, fulfilling all the normal publishing functions but also splitting a book’s net profit 50/50 with the author. Under the traditional model an author is lucky to earn 10% of the cover price, whereas retailers are regularly expecting discounts of over 60%, plus a contribution to the costs of display and marketing. This is why books with print runs of fewer than 5,000 copies make less and less economic sense—even though it is precisely these books that contain the most innovative and challenging ideas.

Unbound was created by three writers who wanted to provide an alternative to the current, traditional publishing model, offering a chance for writers who might not otherwise be able to land a publishing deal with a traditional house. Likewise, the company PUBSLUSH Press offers a similar concept.

PUBSLUSH crowdfunds potential projects, publishes it, and also donates a book to a child in need for every book sold. Here is how its model works:

First, authors submit ten pages and a summary of their book. Then, we let you browse the submissions based on your preferences. You read a brief overview, and if it strikes your fancy, you click through to read a more in depth description. If you’re still interested, you read an excerpt. And if that leaves you wanting more, you support it (which is like committing to preorder the book)! You don’t get charged unless the book is published, so there’s no risk. And for every book we sell, we donate a book to a child in need.

Now, this is not a finite list of all of the crowdfunding options out there for book proposals, and I’m sure we will continue to see more of them cropping up.

Will sites like these influence the publishing industry? On the one hand, there are a lot of different options out there that

weren’t previously available to authors. However, succeeding under a crowdfunded model requires that 1) enough people are aware of the crowdfunding website in the first place and are willing to spend their money on projects there, and 2) you’ve done enough social networking and required outreach to make sure people are aware that your project idea actually exists.

It’s an interesting concept, but I’m not sure that it is ultimately going to go very far for most authors. Especially when other self-publishing models exist.

As Joe Brown from Gizmodo noted, the problem with Kickstarter is the fact that you have to wade through a whole lot of junk. “We are all for rampant innovation, but, at this point, Kickstarter is little more than spam: a whole lot of noise that sometimes results in a poorly made piece of wannabe signal destined for the landfill.”

Honestly, I can see the same thing potentially happening to crowdfunded books. Maybe Unglue.it will be different, because it’s dealing with books that have already been published. But by and large, I’m not sure how many authors will ultimately see success as a result of a crowdfunded effort.

What do you think?

One comment on “Crowdfunding: Can it change the publishing process?

  1. I know that we need to be careful when comparing the publishing and music industries but… I’ve been living in France for the past four and a half years and there have been a two or three artists (for any francophiles out there I’m thinking most especially of Gregoire) who have been able to really break into the music industry here thanks to crowdfunding. Obviously, these artists represent a very small portion of what is available, but isn’t that always the case (whether with music or books)? In any case, I think crowdfunding for books is an intriguing idea and would like to see where it could go. That said, I still find myself wondering what the effects of this disintrigration or breaking down of the publishing industry into lots of little pieces will have on both the industry and the litterature it produces.

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This entry was posted on May 28, 2012 by in Culture, Opinion and tagged , , , .

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