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Crowdfunded Publishing with bookleteer : a concept

July 2nd, 2010 by gileslane

Here at Proboscis we are very excited by the quality of the new PPOD service we’re offering users of bookleteer, but we also recognise that there are still economic barriers to people wanting to break into publishing their own eBooks & StoryCubes. Despite our ground-breaking service offering low-run printing (from only 50 copies per title, much lower than the industry standard of 500 or 1,000 copies) this still requires bookleteers to pay up front for printed versions of their eBooks & StoryCubes. Our aim is to open up publishing with bookleteer by removing as many of the traditional barriers as possible.

With bookleteer you can currently create shareable eBooks and StoryCubes that you can send or allow people to download anywhere in the world at no cost; you can also have high quality professionally printed & bound versions made. Our pricing for this has been set to make it as affordable as possible, so that users can sell on their printed eBooks/StoryCubes and add their own profit margin. But, for many people, the cost of printing even just 50 copies might be more than they can afford or justify on the basis of anticipated (or hoped for) future sales.

In trying to resolve the puzzle of how to allow people to use bookleteer not just to create things which they pay for, but which also allows them to earn money from their creativity, we’re now researching a concept for a crowdfunded marketplace. What we’d like to implement in the future (possibly in the beta version later this year) would be a bookleteer marketplace where the users can submit their eBooks and StoryCubes (either individually or a series / collections). We imagine that the user will set the retail price of the publication, add an ISBN number (if they have one) and set a target number of sales to be achieved before the publication will be printed via our PPOD service.

The marketplace would be public for anyone to browse and, using some kind of crowdfunding platform, pledge to buy a copy or copies of the eBooks/StoryCubes. Payments from buyers would be held in escrow until the sales threshold is reached and the printing and shipping of the publication triggered. At that point we would transfer the creator’s share of the sales to them (minus our printing & shipping costs). If there aren’t enough pledges within a given time frame to trigger the printing, then the buyer’s money would be returned to them. This approach, also called threshold pledging, would reduce the risk to both creator and buyer.

We are just at the very beginning of developing this concept and its going to require more resources and expertise than are currently available to us to actually turn into a reality – however we would really like to know what other people think of this. We’d love to hear from anyone with experience in building crowdfunding systems or using crowdfunding platforms to see if this is possible and what the average ratios are of successful to unsuccessful targets being reached.

We’d like to think that this idea could make it possible for anyone to be able to create a publication and have it professionally printed and bound without having to find the money to do so up front. With bookleteer they would be able to make the Diffusion eBook PDFs available for people to make their own handmade versions, then choose to buy the PPOD version (thereby economically supporting the creator). In this way we could create a whole new generation of publishers, crossing economic as well as cultural divides, allowing more people to find different ways of sharing their ideas, stories, knowledge, artworks – whatever they value and wish to share.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by proboscis, Giles Lane. Giles Lane said: I've just outlined my concept for 'crowdfunded publishing' with @bookleteer : http://bit.ly/aKqc4A feedback most welcome […]

  • The best place to start here is probably Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/) which is a more generalised funding platform for what you describe.

    For an example of a bookish project funded by Kickstarter (which is US only at the moment, but we’re all waiting with bated breath), check out Craig Mod’s now-funded Art Space Tokyo:

    http://artspacetokyo.com/
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1790732155/art-space-tokyo-ipad-edition-hardcover-reprint?pos=1

    When Kickstarter goes global, it would seem overkill to attempt to replicate this service with bookleteer – holding money in escrow would be one of just many quite serious challenges – but it would be a good place to point users.

    It’s dangerous to overestimate the usefulness of crowdfunding / pledging in this way though. It’s an approach taken by Glasshouse books (http://www.glasshousebooks.co.uk/home.php), who aim to take pledges before printing, but AFAIK they’ve only managed to get one book out so far.

  • Thanks James, I didn’t know about the Glasshouse example – my suspicion is that rather more projects don’t succeed in their goals than do with crowdfunding.

    What sparked my thinking of this was the hope that, due to the low quantities/production costs of printing bookleteer books, the initial sums to raise might be modest and thus reasonably achieveable (though I could be entirely wrong on that assumption).

  • Giles, sorry it took me a while to reply. I think this is a very interesting idea, and more generally the propect of readers or interested parties investing in or pre-ordering copies is being quite widely considered, not just by Glasshouse, as James mentioned, but also http://www.andotherstories.org/ – a publisher of books in translation and I think by Completely Novel – http://www.completelynovel.com/ Outside of books/publishing, VODO – http://www.vodo.net – run by jamie King, of Steal this Film, looked at this as a basis for distribution of content via torrent networks.

    On the whole, I don’t think it has proved successful yet in the narrow sense – that people have been able to make a sustainable income from crowd funding (at least not in the UK ) – but on the other hand I think at the volumes and prices you are talking about this might start to become attractive and drop below a threshold where people want to get involved.

    I think though the key for me is to have a very committed network of supporters already, people who are actively involved in debate about these topics or involved in publishing their own books, who are more likely to support each other. I think it largely comes down to interest – what’s your stake/investment in the project beyond just interest in reading the book – and therefore this is likely to work where people are already part of a group that they can activate – such as school/college/professional network – rather than a more general marketplace for books.

    So maybe it’s partly about the support you give to potential authors or the additional tools you can give them to promote their work and really engage people in their projects. Of course the process itself would have to be as frictionless as possible.

    Would be happy to discuss in more detail over a coffee at some point.. Let me know when you’re free.

  • Charles, thanks for such a thoughtful reply.

    I agree that the key is to have a group/network of existing supporters for each project to succeed. I very much doubt that this would generate any level of income for authors, but it could hopefully distribute the relatively small burden of production cost beyond the creator, off-setting the need for up-front capital which has been the traditional barrier to new entrants into publishing.

    Its unlikely that Proboscis would/could set up a whole new crowdfunding platform ourselves, but it would be great to link directly to an existing one and make it even easier for people to use bookleteer to create and share their publications. The most promising one I’ve seen so far is http://www.indiegogo.com/

    Let’s definitely catch up soon.
    best,
    Giles