Monday, 6 June 2011

Unbound: A Threat to Publishers?

According to The Bookseller, the new self publishing service, Unbound, is the beginning of the end of traditional publishing, or at least a business model that will accelerate the demise of the printed book. Or the ebook. Or neither.

The Bookseller says, "Unbound, a publishing platform that allows readers to choose what is published, was devised as a response to the “difficulties of the existing publishing model”, with the programme aiming to get 35 to 40 projects off the ground in its first year."

Here's the idea; instead of self-publishing, you pitch your book idea to a social network of readers. If they like the idea, they invest in it to cover the publishing costs. In return, they get anything from a 'goodie bag' to lunch with the author.

If an investor puts in more than £1,000, they might get a royalty share of book sales too.

Whhooooaa! £1,000? How much are they saying it costs to publish a book?

Oh, of course, I forgot. We're talking about a traditional publishing house trying to muscle in on the ebook and self-publishing market.

"Supported by Faber, the platform was created by “QI” writers John Mitchinson and John Pollard, and Crap Towns author Dan Kieran. Authors are required to pitch their idea to readers on the site, and have 50 days to attract support through readers pledging money to fund the publication of the work. If enough money is pledged, the work will be published, primarily as an e-book or “beautifully bound, limited edition hardback”, or both, with each pledger’s name inscribed in the back of the print edition."

In the old days, there were publishers and there were vanity publishers. A publisher buys the licence to print your book and in return pays you a pittance of a royalty. They use your book to market their business, and if they really go to town on marketing, you make some money. But not nearly as much as the publisher, and quite rightly so, because they've done all the hard work in marketing and getting your book onto the shelves. Which they control.

Vanity publishers just charged you to print your book for you.

So, an aspiring author had two choices; take their manuscript around all the publishing houses, facing rejection, or pay to see their book in print.

In today's world of ebooks and print on demand, anyone can get their work into circulation for a very small amount of money, but, is it any good? And will it sell?

Today's author is faced with the choice of taking their manuscript to the traditional publishing houses, as before, self-publishing and now, getting the readers to buy the book in a limited print run before it's even written.

"As The Bookseller went to press, of the five ideas currently on the [Unbound] site, author Terry Jones’ idea for “a darkly funny set of linked tales” had received 2% of its required funding, while Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s idea, an iPad version of his book The Cloudspotter’s Guide, was still on 0%."

We presume they're both well known authors, so these figures either show that the Unbound concept is in its infancy, or it's a silly idea.

As a business model, it is very similar to the 'micro loans' concept that hit the headlines a few years ago. The idea was that I go to a website and post a request for some money, then some other people offer to lend me various amounts which together give me what I need. I then pay them back, through the website. Each micro investor makes a return, I get a loan, the website makes a profit off the top.

Unbound is not a new concept in publishing, it is a simple and blatant attempt by an existing publishing house to shuffle the risk around - so that it lands anywhere but at their door.

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