In 2011, I switched Iguana Books (which I helped start in 1992, but that’s a long and irrelevant-for-now anecdote) from a sort-of-traditional publishing model to a hybrid model: the author (or someone who wasn’t me) paid the costs of publication, and we put out professional-quality books that were distributed worldwide as ebooks and print-on-demand paperbacks.
It sort of worked, but there were a few problems: for starters, lots of people couldn’t afford the service and anyway there’s a stigma to paying to get published. The worst problem was the one inside my head: I didn’t like charging writers a lot of money when I knew there was a good chance their books would sell poorly. (Iguana’s best-selling book to date has sold just over 3000 copies. At the other end of the spectrum, some of them have struggled to sell 1% of that number. One major “self-publishing company” says its average title sells 2.3 copies. We do much better than that, but...) It became sort of a conscience thing, knowing that I was selling a service that would leave many of my customers’ dreams pitifully crushed.
In 2012, one of our would-be authors said he wanted to crowdfund to raise money to pay for publishing his book. In 4 weeks, he managed to raise a bit over $16,000. (!!!!!!) That caught my attention, and I started suggesting to authors who couldn’t afford our fees that they try crowdfunding. And fairly soon I was suggesting it to authors who COULD afford the fees.
By the beginning of 2015, we were crowdfunding most of our projects, using Pubslush, a crowdfunding site designed specifically for publishing projects. In May 2015, our best crowdfunding month to date, Pubslush paid us $32,284 to cover publication costs of four books.
Then, in August 2015, Pubslush announced that it was closing, which blew a major hole in Iguana’s business model. So I called the owner of Pubslush, and arranged to acquire the company, conditional on me being able to start running it immediately. We ran Pubslush from that day until the deal fell apart 7 weeks later and Pubslush closed for good. While we were running the company, we made elaborate plans for how to rework the service – and decided to change the name to PubLaunch.
We decided to start from scratch with a new service called PubLaunch. The crowdfunding part of the site is up and running, and soon we’ll be launching something that wasn’t part of Pubslush: a “marketplace” to connect writers with editors, designers, indexers, marketing people, printers, distributors and so on. Everything you could need to publish a book. (Yes, we’re accepting registrations from editors. Editors in India are very welcome as suppliers. They will be paid North American rates.)
So what’s crowdfunding, and how does it work for publishing projects? Crowdfunding, according to Wikipedia, is “the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.”
There are thousands of crowdfunding companies, offering variations of the same model: a variety of rewards or incentives are offered at different funding levels. For book projects, you might get copies of the book once it’s published: an ebook for a $20 contribution, a paperback for a $40 contribution, a hardcover for a $60 contribution, a signed hardcover for a $100 contribution and so on. For a more generous contribution you might get a thank-you in the book, or have a character named after you, or get to have dinner with the author. It varies a lot. Contribution levels usually range from $5 or $10 (for which you might just get a “hi and thanks” on Twitter) to thousands of dollars – the highest contribution any of our campaigns has received has been $5000.
Crowdfunding solves three problems:
1. It helps people afford publishing (and editing) services they couldn’t otherwise afford.
2. It gets rid of the dreaded “vanity publishing” stigma that comes with paying to get your book published.
3. It offers a really valuable market test. If a book does well when crowdfunded, it will probably sell reasonably well. If it sells 2.3 copies when crowdfunded, it would also have sold terribly when published. So the writer has discovered that the book has no market without spending thousands of dollars to find that out.
Greg Ioannou is a co-owner of PubLaunch, a new crowdfunding site designed for books and writers. He will be speaking on Crowdfunding at Editors Canada’s 2016 Conference in Vancouver, June 10-12 2016.