MonthNovember 2015

The newest brand in consumer markets: Authors

There are over 500,000 books being published each year from traditional publishing houses such as Knopf to small Indie presses like Titan. A growing amount of books are being self-published from various platforms. This is a consumers and book lovers paradise with endless books but this same utopia can be an author’s downfall. Authors are becoming a dying breed. Yes more books are being published but not many books are selling. In 2013 authors in the United Kingdom were not even making enough money for the minimum standard of living according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (Flood, 2014) Authors may publish their books hoping to become the next James Patterson or J.K. Rowling but due to a saturated market cannot even afford rent. The digital market of eBooks and self-publication may have hindered author’s abilities to profit in their profession rather than help them. However the digital realm can also help authors. Authors have to now be more than storytellers they have to evolve and become a brand.

In a traditional publishing business model the story will carry the book and marketing teams and publishers will sell the book. The author’s platform can help but may not always be needed. Some authors prefer to not be in the spotlight. Now the author is a full brand and their book is the commodity. Self-publishing is the path most new authors will tread on due to the lack of editorial gatekeeping and the majority of the profit is given to the author not split between the publishing house and the agent. Amazon’s kindle has a direct publishing platform so authors can publish directly to the Amazonian marketplace (Collins, 2013)Within the Kindle direct publishing there are several tools for authors for them to get their books noticed among the myriad of books already available in the marketplace. One way authors can do this is by “selling” their books for free.  Although this seems a completely backwards strategy, how can authors make money if they give their content away for free?

Books published through Kindle’s direct publishing can be a part of their free book promotions for a limited number of days. The program is “seeking to sell at high volumes rather than high margins” (Collins, 2013)This is all to encourage word of mouth marketing thus selling greater volumes of books after the promotion is over. The Kindle Direct is just one platform, Smashwords Bookbub and Story Cartel are a few other websites that provide books for free or little cost. Story cartel gives readers free copies of books in exchange for honest reviews. Their goal is to create buzz and hype around a book through good reviews so other consumers will purchase the items. Story Cartel also helps authors create a community and relationship with its readers. They help create an author’s brand so readers will purchase future books from the author.  Authors are now also sending free eBooks to ‘big mouths’ in their community to generate more recognition. Thompson (2012) refers to ‘big mouths’ as “anyone they can think of who has some position of influence, whether they are review editors or agents or opinion leaders” (pg. 248). In the age of the internet bloggers are key ‘big mouths’ and authors can target them to help promote their book and also themselves by being featured on blogs and podcast.

The business model of free is something Chris Anderson is a strong advocate for. He explains, “how most free books are based on freemium” (Anderson, 2009, pg. 158). In his Ted Talk he quotes how “free is abundance not a scarcity” (Anderson, 2004). It can be a free chapter or the whole book but it draws readers in and it helps spread the author’s brand. In this model authors have to give away some or all of their content to build a relationship and community with their audience. If books are free they are also less likely to become pirated and posted on the web by random users. Instead a free book directly from the author promotes the author’s name and his other products as well. Tim O’Reilly a publisher notes, “the enemy of the author is not piracy but obscurity” (in Anderson, 2009, pg. 161). Giving out the books for free helps authors to not become another nameless book in the sea of books being published.

There are limitations on the free business model and a major one is not having a brand or a platform. Once an author has an established brand then the price of the content will not matter to readers they will pay to read the next book written by their beloved brand named author. J.K. Rowling is a prime example of how a brand affects sales. She published her second adult novel The Cuckoo’s’ Calling under the name Robert Galbraith. Originally the book sold approximately 13,000 worldwide (Stewart, 2013). After Rowling was ‘unmasked’ the book sold up to 1.1 million copies and was at the top of best seller list (Stewart, 2013).

 

According to Forbes the strongest brand in publishing is Jack Reacher created by Lee Child (Vinjamuri, 2014). According to Codex Group data, people are willing to pay a significant premium for their brand authors (Vinjamuri, 2014).

It is not all about the platform but the brand, Vinjamuri (2013) argues, “before a book can possibly be a bestseller, it needs to reach critical mass.” New authors need to establish a brand to become noticeable amongst the plethora of books but this does have major implications for the publishing industry.

Writers who achieve a brand status will profit greatly even if they give away one of their books for free. The readers will most likely purchase other items from the author. This model works well if an author is writing a series versus stand-alone titles (Sargent, 2014). Authors must join the rest of the creative industries and face the reality of the digital world. The fashion industry has knock offs and cheap imitations but it does not stop fashion houses and brands from growing. Johanna Blakely(2010) discusses how copyright and piracy do not affect the fashion world because they have a culture of copying.  She argues that even with no copyrights and knock offs, brands will still continue to profit because their customers are not going to purchase knock offs. They want to purchase the brand (2010). 

The implication for authors as a profession is quite drastic. Authors will now have to write but may not get big advance checks especially if they take the self-publishing route. Most authors in the current market are already living the reality of not having any advance checks or having drastically smaller ones from publishing houses. Writing is now just one aspect of the profession. Previously an author could avoid the limelight and just sit at home and write books and if the story is captivating and publishing house is promoting it then will sell. Now there are hundreds of stories being published some have the power of the big publishing houses but most are just being typed up on computers then being published almost instantly. Authors must now have a relationship with their readers and start to build a community. Authors can gather email addresses of readers in exchange for a few free chapters or sometimes the whole book. This allows the authors to generate mailing list so they can target their audience directly (Collins, 2013).  

There are some criticisms to this new direction that authors are going towards. Just how publishers though that Amazon will and has devalued the price of the book, when authors give their books away they are devaluing their profession (Anderson, 2015).This argument is valid it may decrease the worth but consumers ultimately have to purchase the goods. They are a key factor in the market and can change the market as well. There are some authors who do see the changes of the industry and are embracing the new direction. Lawrence Lessig gave away thousands of copies of two of his books one that was previously published and a new one and he states it “that the openness has extended the long tail of my book” (Hilton & Wiley, 2010). Being open helps authors gain other opportunities such as film production, writing in magazine and teaching and speaking fees (Hilton & Wiley, 2010).

Publishing houses are already going through changes with the new technologies such as Ebooks and self-publishing platforms. With authors putting up their content for free publishers can now look at the stories and authors with out doing any work. Editors no longer have to look through manuscripts they can look though the various free books and see which books are creating the most buzz and have a following. With this route publishers would be finding books that already have an audience and sell bestsellers. Hypothetically the guesswork for finding bestsellers would be erased. This does not mean that traditional publishing houses will cease to exist. Even with authors going self-publishing routes, Ewan Morrison states how authors will jump to a “proper publishing deal as soon as they are able” (Barber, 2012). A classic example of this is Fifty Shades of Grey that was once as on a fan website for Twilight for free then was ‘picked up’ by Vintage House to follow a more traditional publishing route.

The publishing industry as a whole is affected by the changes in the author’s profession. The traditional elite author is not sustainable anymore neither is elite publishing. The days of editors and publishers being gatekeepers are fading. Authors are now letting their works be seen by the masses for free and in exchange gaining recognition and developing a brand.

Work Cited

Anderson, C. (2009). Free: The future of a radical price. New York: Hyperion.

Anderson, C. (2014, February) Technology’s long tail. Retrieved November 1, 2015 

Anderson, P. (2015, January 28). ‘Who Decided Our Worth?’ Do Free Books Give Away Authors’ Value? Retrieved November 7, 2015, from http://thoughtcatalog.com/porter-anderson/2015/01/who-decided-our-worth-do-free-books-give-away-authors-value/ 

Barber, J. (2012, Jul 26). ‘There will be no more professional writers in the future’. The Globe and Mail Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1027833869?accountid=13800 

Blakley, J. (2012, April 1). Lessons from fashion’s free culture. Retrieved October 1, 2015.

Collins, S. (2013, October 17). Why Successful Authors Are Giving Their Books Away for Free. Retrieved November 9, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/simone-collins/why-successful-authors-ar_b_4115300.html 

Flood, A. (2014, July 8). Authors’ income collapse to ‘abject levels’ Retrieved November 7, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/08/authors-incomes-collapse-alcs-survey

Hilton III, J., & Wiley, D. (2010). Free: Why Authors are Giving Books Away on the Internet. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning54(2), 43-48.

Sargent, B. (2014, May 27). Are Book Giveaways Still Worth It for Indie Authors? Retrieved November 5, 2015, from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/pw-select/article/62424-are-book-giveaways-still-worth-it-for-indie-authors.html 

Stewart, J. (2013, August 30). Long Odds for Authors Newly Published. Retrieved November 6, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/31/business/cuckoos-calling-reveals-long-odds-for-new-authors.html?_r=0

Thompson, J. (2012). Merchants of culture: The publishing business in the twenty-first century (Second ed.). New York, New York: Plume.

Vinjamuri, D. (n.d.). The Strongest Brand in Publishing is. Retrieved November 6, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2014/03/04/the-strongest-brand-in-publishing-is/ 

Free Content and Email Marketing

Gaining access to free content is easier than ever before because of the proliferation of online media. From DIY YouTube videos to a multitude of blogs, the content available is unprecedented. Advice and help that people needed to pay for before is now readily available for free online for anyone with an internet connection. The internet has also changed the way authors interact and create books. With the creation of Creative Commons licenses, being able to freely share content with everyone is also much easier now. With the advent of creative commons licensing authors have the ability to share their work online for free. While this sounds ideal for the reader, it begs the question how can authors make a living out of free content? There are several different business models authors can choose, but I’m going to focus on the power of advertising, specifically that’s enabled by email marketing. Email marketing consists of the accumulation of a list of emails of people have have agreed to receive regular updates from a particular website (Thompson, 2011). Although email marketing is a specific action, I’m going to be using it as more of an umbrella term that is going to encompass several other actions as well that let authors make money. This will include premium content, affiliate marketing, and selling ad space. Because all of these actions are ultimately driven by email marketing, I am going to be discussing it specifically.

Email marketing consists of building a list of subscribers that willingly want to receive updates about the author’s content (Thompson, 2011). Through the email the author can send out regular updates about their book, or any other relevant information. It is also a direct link, a way to speak directly to each individual reader through the email inbox (Jarrett, 2013). To begin email marketing Frances Caballo offers a list of steps for authors to take: 1) sing up for an email application, 2) offer a hook for people to sign up, 3) send content readers will appreciate on a regular basis (2015). Email applications, such as AWeber, make it easier for authors to create opt-in email services and continually stay in touch with their subscribers (AWeber, n.d.). This makes it easier to manage the emails, and the application allows authors to more easily understand and navigate who is interested in their work. The hook for an author would be the rest of the book or chapter. On their website the author would provide a chapter or two that anyone can read. However, if the reader is interested and wants to gain access to the whole of the book, they need to subscribe to the email. For this kind of system to work, I believe that the author cannot release the whole book at once to the readers. Instead, a system where either a chapter or a certain section of the book will be released to the audience every week or within some other consistent time frame would work better. By getting regular updates, readers receive content they are interested in without losing interest in the work and then unsubscribing. In a way, this already happens on websites like fanfiction.net, where the authors of fan based work update their stories by chapter and those interested get an email notification that the story has been updated. It can take years before a story is completed, but if the updates are regular, the readers stay loyal. And loyalty is crucial for this system to work, because the larger the audience and the email list, the more money the author can then make (Thompson, 2011).

Once the author has an email list, several things can happen. First, because those subscribed to the email notification are a loyal fan base, the author can attempt to sell their other products to people who are most likely to be interested. This could mean a print book, special art, an event, or exclusive content that no one without paying will be able to receive. However, these products have to be relevant, something that readers will appreciate, because otherwise it might lead to them unsubscribing (Johnston, 2013). Another thing that can be done with an email list is to rent it out. An author can give out their list to “companies looking to promote their products to [the author’s] audience,” (Johnston, 2013, para. 10). The same concern as with promoting the author’s own products can arise; the companies must be in some way related, tailored that the readers will enjoy the product rather than become dissatisfied and unsubscribe. Affiliate marketing, which is similar to renting out your list, and works pretty well to generate money. It is an often used technique by bloggers and works best when it is paired up with email marketing (Thompson, 2011). What it comes down to is making commission from promoting other products (Dunlop, n.d.). This can be done on the website, but would work better with email as it gives direct access to people. Once again, caution is needed, because too many sales pitches can drive people away. Finally, selling ad space on the author’s website can also drive revenue (Dunlop, n.d.). Having an email list will force interested readers to come back to the website again and again, which will increase exposure to the website and to the ads that are found on that website. It is possible to make a lot of money from email marketing, specifically because other forms of revenue and marketing can then be utilized by the author.

Such a system has a lot of potential. First of all most websites – including blogs – operate in such a way, or at least make money using this system (Dunlop, n.d.). Despite the rise of other social media platforms, email is still an extremely powerful tool as it is “considered the most important business tool” by many people (Caballo, 2015, para. 7). Authors frequently use their websites, blogs, and emails to engage with their readers, it therefore makes sense that it is possible to profit from the tools that are already being used. Based on the system I outlined, it would essentially make authors into bloggers. However, this would change the publishing landscape as this system is really only viable for online self-publishing. In fact, it could even be argued that publishing houses would no longer have a role to play at all, as the authors themselves will have to deal with all of the aspects usually done by a publisher, such as marketing, editing, designing, distributing, promoting, etc. In other words, most aspects of publishing would be done online and only by one person, instead of a team of professionals. More than that though, one of the risks of this sort of publishing is gaining a large enough audience base. I already mentioned that the larger the audience, the more money the author is likely to make, but generating the necessary traffic is difficult and would require a lot of exposure. If more and more authors move onto the online world and begin publishing the way I have described, it will be harder and harder for authors to make their work stand out. This would also cause problems for the reader. People already are overwhelmed by too much information, and have to sort it from what is useful and what isn’t. The same problem would occur if every author had their own website creating their own books; finding one that an individual would really like would be difficult. So on the one hand, the reader will have access to a lot of free content, but they would also have a harder time finding good content. Nevertheless, it is a possible direction for some authors to move into.

 

Bibliography

About AWeber. (n.d.). AWeber. Retrieved from http://www.aweber.com/about.htm

Caballo, F. (2015, February 10). Email Marketing For Authors – A Powerful Tool. Magnolia Media Network. Retrieved from http://www.magnoliamedianetwork.com/email-marketing-for-authors/

Dunlop, M. (n.d.). 14 Ways To Actually Make Money From a Website! Income Diary. Retrieved from http://www.incomediary.com/ways-to-make-money-from-website

Jarrett, J. (2013, January 13). 29 Ways to Make Money Online for Free Ebook. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/jingerjarrett/29-ways-to-make-money-online-for-free-ebook

Johnston, M. (2013, April 30). How to Monetize, Rent, or Sell Email Addresses (Legally). Monetize Pros. Retrieved from http://monetizepros.com/email-monetization/five-ways-to-make-money-off-email-addresses/ 

Thompson, M. (2011, March 30). How Bloggers Who Provide Free Content Make Money. Search Engine Journal. Retrieved from http://www.searchenginejournal.com/how-bloggers-who-provide-free-content-make-money/28815/

Ads, Ads, Ads: How Free Books can Make a Profit

The future of the publishing industry has been up for debate ever since the introduction of e-readers and the availability of books in the digital format. Although the print publishing industry is still finding success using it’s traditional model (Shatzkin, 2015), the advent of creative commons licensing as well as technological advancements have opened the door to a variety of new potential business models for both authors and publishing houses. In this essay I will be exploring the possibilities of a business model similar to that of Facebook and complimentary mobile apps, where the content is provided free of charge in a digital format, using advertisements as a form of revenue generation (Thomas, 2012; Lunn, 2012). I will give a brief description of this model, followed by an analysis of the implications for authors, creativity of production, publishers, and readers.

The basis of the advertising model is that businesses will pay an agreed-upon amount per impression (how many times their ad is seen on your website) as well as per click-through (how many times their ad is clicked on and a viewer is directed to their website) (Starak, n.d.). Authors providing their content free of charge in the attempt to profit off of this business model can move forward in two ways. First of all, authors have the ability to create their own personal websites, through which they can make their content available and be the sole recipients of all of the revenue generated through advertisement clicks. In order to ensure that the advertisements are relevant to the audience, it would be prudent for the author to understand who their readers are and contact businesses who are wishing to target that demographic, offering them an opportunity to advertise on their site (Starak, n.d.). Secondly, if we suppose that publishing houses also subscribe to this business model, authors can attempt to have a publisher post their content on their website and have the profits be divided between the house and the author. As an additional form of revenue, authors can continue to produce print copies of their works (either self-published or through a publishing house) to be sold as a ‘special edition’ should there be a demand for it.

In theory, this business model will work on some levels for all authors. It is a business model of limitless resources, meaning that the number of authors who are able to use it simultaneously is infinite. However, it is important to note that not all authors may be interested in pursuing this model. There is still a wide digital divide among citizens, both generationally as well as geographically. It must be considered that not all authors may be capable nor comfortable with publishing their content digitally and/or free of charge, and not all readers may be interested in, or have access to, digital formats. Secondly, it is doubtless that some authors will benefit more than others, as the more popular one’s content becomes, the more clicks and therefore revenue they will generate. Nevertheless, I do not see this as a failing of this business model, as even with the traditional publishing model there is a hierarchy of benefits with a small portion of authors achieving much greater financial success than the majority. I feel that this type of imbalance in benefits is inescapable no matter what business model is used. Finally, I feel that this business model is a viable option for authors as it can work much in a similar manner as royalties; once an author is no longer producing content, as long as it is still available online with relevant advertisements that are generating click-throughs, the author will continue to benefit.

In addition to the potential financial benefits for authors, a business model based on free content and advertising can have positive effects on creativity and content production. Much in the same way as traditional self-publication can, this form of publishing can encourage creativity in that it allows authors who may not be picked up by a publishing house to make their content available and reach an audience. Whereas a publishing house may be primarily concerned with finding what they assume to be a guaranteed hit, this model allows for a diversification of content as it allows authors who have a different writing style or who are focused on a niche genre to publish their content independently.

This business model would change the publishing industry drastically. I believe that were the publishing industry to adopt several strategies used by similar businesses, it could find success in this primarily digital form of content-sharing. To begin, it would be imperative for publishing houses to embrace digital content production as a main form of revenue generation and allow print editions to become a secondary priority. Secondly, it would be necessary for their websites to require users to sign up if they are interested in accessing the free online content. In this way, they can gather important information about each reader in order to successfully profit from targeted ads in the same way as companies such as Facebook (Lunn, 2012). This type of user data collection will increase the value for advertisers and, subsequently, increase the revenue generated for the publishers. In a similar vein, they would be driven to adopt Big Data algorithms in a manner similar to Netflix, in order to obtain more information than ever before about what readers are interested in and how they are consuming the content in order to make informed decisions in the future (Leonard, 2013). This type of Big Data collection can also allow them to provide their users with recommendations based on their preferences and reading habits (Leonard, 2013). Finally, publishing houses can continue to produce ‘special edition’ print copies for books that are exceptionally popular and for which readers would pay to own in physical form.

Finally, I will examine how this type of business model would impact and affect readers. I believe that the most significant development will be a dramatic increase in the prevalence of digital content consumption. While reading print books is currently the most common form of consumption (Carr, 2013), were content to be made available in the digital form free of charge, this would shift the primary method of reading for a great deal of consumers. Many of today’s consumers are not interested in paying to own content – rather, they are satisfied with having complimentary digital access to it (Wohlsen, 2014). As a result of this, I believe that were this business model to be adopted e-reading would become the norm. Print books would become a specialty item, being reserved for books that are extremely popular and sold almost as a form of merchandise to dedicated fans. That being said, it is important to note that many consumers are tired of being bombarded with a non-stop stream of advertisements, and find them to be both a distraction and a nuisance. In this case, this business model could negatively impact readers as the quality of their reading experience is lowered due to the irritation of constant targeted advertisements. However, this can potentially be used to the advantage of authors and publishing houses who have the option of developing a subscription-based, ad-free paid service (Popper, 2015) – in this situation, while the ‘content’ is technically complimentary, a profit is still being made without the use of advertisements.

While a change such as the adoption of this business model for authors and publishers seems very drastic, it is a model that has potential and could seem more and more viable as technological advancements continue. This is a model that is commonly used and very popular, and this is for a reason – if it is applied properly, it can create remarkable revenue while promoting free content and creativity. While it may be more effective for authors who are more popular and have a fan following, it is difficult to argue that this would not be true of any publishing model. It would undoubtedly be a huge shift for the business of publishing houses, and would require a great deal of adaptation if they wish to find success. Finally, it would presumably change the manner in which readers commonly consume content, shifting from primarily print to primarily digital.

Works Cited

Carr, N. (2013). The flattening of e-book sales. Retrieved from: Rough Type http://www.roughtype.com/?p=3590

Leonard, A. (2013). How Netflix is turning viewers into puppets. Retrieved from: Salon http://www.salon.com/2013/02/01/how_netflix_is_turning_viewers_into_puppets/

Lunn, E. (2012). How does Facebook make money? Retrieved from: Yahoo Finance https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/how-does-facebook-make-money.html

Popper, B. (2015). Red dawn: An inside look at Youtube’s new ad-free subscription service. Retrieved from: The Verge http://www.theverge.com/2015/10/21/9566973/youtube-red-ad-free-offline-paid-subscription-service

Shatzkin, M. (2015). The publishing industry as we have known it is not going away anytime soon. Retrieved from: The Idea Logical Company http://www.idealog.com/blog/the-publishing-business-as-we-have-known-it-is-not-going-away-anytime-soon/

Starak, Y. (n.d.). Making money from your website using advertising.  Retrieved from: Entrepreneurs Journey http://www.entrepreneurs-journey.com/105/making-money-from-your-website-using-advertising/

Thomas, C. (2012). How do free apps make money? Retrieved from: Bluecloud Solutions http://www.bluecloudsolutions.com/blog/5-ways-free-apps-money/

Wohlsen, M. (2014). Apple and Amazon have a problem: People don’t want to buy stuff anymore. Retrieved from: Wired http://www.wired.com/2014/10/apple-amazon-problem-people-dont-want-buy-stuff-anymore/

Crowdfunding – A New Creative Outlet for Authors

When you are an author who is having a hard time signing with a publishing house, it definitely can be a big disappointment when your work is not out there for others to read. An alternative method for authors to publish their work is through crowdfunding. Unlike self-publishing where the author is responsible for writing, editing, design, printing (if they want to release a print book), distribution and promotion, crowdfunding is a means of “mitigating financial risk” for the authors (Book Passage, n.d.; Positive Writer, n.d.). Through the source of crowdfunding, authors are not limited to the traditional means and the audiences have a say over the content. It allows authors to publish their work without the confines of the traditional publishing houses.

In order to talk more about crowdfunding, let’s talk about the concept. Crowdfunding first started within the music and video industry, which then started to shift to the publishing industry in 2010 (Schimming, 2015, p. 6). It is an opportunity for people to fund their projects with the help of a larger group of people contributing money, which usually happens through the Internet (Schofield, n.d.) In terms of book publishing, it is an alternative format for authors where they can find resources to publish books that might not have been accepted at a publishing house (Positive Writer, n.d.). The idea is that the creator will either post a sample of their work or a description on the crowdfunding website and the amount they need in order for them to complete the project (Allen, 2011). The money helps “cover the cost of hiring professional editors, designers, and marketers” so the author can produce a book with quality (Kaye, 2015). According to Allen, in some cases, projects that are posted on the website have actually already have publishers. However because smaller publishing houses publish these projects, it is the author’s responsibility to cover the production costs if the book does not do well in the market (Allen, 2011). Another example about a published author is Eric Ries. He used the crowdfunding platform to propose a book, which will be exclusively released for the people who pledged for the project (Bausells, 2015). It had reached its goal within a day and more people were asking to make a donation in order to receive the book (Bausells, 2015). Therefore crowdfunding platforms not only help new authors but established ones as well.

Crowdfunding have been such a huge trend amongst different creators. One of the biggest website that has helped authors reach their audience would be the website, Kickstarter. Some other big websites for book publishing are PUBSLUSH, and Unbound, which not only acts as a crowdsourcing website but as a publisher as well (Gartland, n.d.). According to Kaye, there are two types of crowdfunding options. There are “fundraising platforms that help authors connect with their audience,” something that Kickstarter offers to their clients and a “full-service book publisher that use crowdfunding to decide what to publish” (2015). Both platforms connect authors directly to the audience and it is up to the authors on how involved they want the readers/pledges in the production process.

With the new use of technology, the relationship between the author and the audience has changed. It allowed the readers to be more involved in the decision process, which is a more transparent process than the traditional book-publishing model. Traditionally, the book publishers would take the risk if a book were going to fail in the market. Therefore if a publisher believes the author’s work will not be a success, they will reject the author’s idea or ask for it to be re-written (Schimming, 2015, p. 2). Depending on the author’s contract with the publishing house, the publisher can have control over the author’s work, from design to editing (Shimming, 2015, p. 2). However, the crowdfunding model allows the pledges to replace the publisher (Shimming, 2015, p. 5). With that in mind, this allows the author to be more creative with their writing without conforming to the publisher’s demands and forgoing the traditional routes of hiring an agent (Perry, 2015, p. 8). It also removes the middleman, so the author is directly connecting with their audience and getting the feedback of what the audience want (Quinlan, 2012). Furthermore, with the added interaction with their readers, they are able to test whether the content that they are producing will be a success, reducing the risk of failure (Bauswells, 2015). The authors would be able to get loans for projects that were initially rejected from having a financial backing and it opens up a wide variety of audiences from different regions (Quinlan, 2012). According to Øiestad and Bugge, “the user-added value is probably the most important web 2.0 trend for content-oriented firms” (2013, p. 56).

Crowdfunding is also a great tool for authors to think about their marketing strategy (Positive Writer, n.d.). In order to bring awareness to their proposed concept, the author would have to connect to their potential readers. More importantly they would have to advocate their work to people who they believe would appreciate it and are willing to pledge for them. This allows them the opportunity to reach to their personal contacts such as their friends and families and people on their social media platform to donate (Positive Writer, n.d.). The following is an example of a veteran author who has been writing for 20 years and has used the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter to raise funds for her book (Bearman, n.d.). The first step that the author, Susan Bearman, have to decide is the overall budget of her goal. In order to give her pledges an incentive, the crowdfunding website provides the pledges with a reward system. For Susan Bearman, her pledges consisted mostly of her friends and families and their acquaintances (Bearman, n.d.). The rewards system helps motivate the pledges to donate and acts a form of gratitude from the author (Bearman n.d.; Schofield, n.d.). Furthermore, by adding a reward level, it recognizes those who donates more than others (Schofield, n.d). Some authors even credit the pledges in their book, which is determined by the amount they donated to the process (Allen, 2012). The more the pledges pre-order the author’s book, the more the author makes. In Schimming’s article, authors who use the platform, Inkshare, receive 50% of the income made through the pre-order of print books and 70% on e-books, which is a lot more than the get if they were in a contract with a traditional publishing house (2015, 9). Although the concept of marketing their books should be a normal routine for most self-published authors there are still some authors out there who are not comfortable with it. Some feel uncomfortable asking for donations from their friends and families (Schimming, 2015, p. 8). For authors who are struggling to achieve their fundraising goals, some crowdfunding websites would hold the money until the goal has been fulfilled; therefore it is up to the author to market their idea in order to keep their promise to their pledges (Allen, 2012).

Although crowdfunding is a great resource for authors, it also helps publishers as well. Through crowdfunding websites, publishers are able to utilize it by discovering new authors that writes good content (Biggs, 2015). Publishers take advantage of the feedback that the authors receive from their readers. The reason is because the readers act as a “filter for quality and for market testing” (Harvey, 2014). They help the publishers determine whether the content is good or bad and gage whether the book will be a success. Furthermore, by adapting to the crowdfunding platforms, publishers are able to engage the authors and the readers without losing both to other self-publishing platforms (Harvey, 2014). It is also a great way for authors to meet and connect with publishers as well (Biggs, 2015).

In the perspective of the readers, they now have the most power through the crowdfunding model. With the traditional book publishing model, the readers were often left out of the decision making process. Audiences were only need when the product is available in the brick and mortar or e-stores to purchase and consume the content. However, now the readers have the opportunity to choose who and what kind of content they want to support. They essentially determine whether the book will be published. With that said, this new model allows a reverse in the power dynamics between the publisher, author and reader. Although, many authors, readers and publishers support the crowdfunding model there are however downsides. According to Quinlan, the author’s concepts on the fundraising websites are not protected (2012). Others are allowed to steal the author’s idea and use it for their own gains. Furthermore, pledges who regret donating to a cause have no way of getting their money back because once the donation goal has been made, the money is the author’s property (Quinlan, 2012).

With that in mind, there are more positive results for authors, readers and publishers who use crowdfunding platforms. It allows new authors to have a foot in an otherwise competitive industry. Veteran authors are able to be creative and receive support for works that normally would not be released through the traditional publishing model, while publishers are able to curate talent through these platforms. In addition, readers are active throughout the production process by providing authors with suggestions and having a say in what they want to consume. Many have questioned if this will be the next big thing in the book publishing industry and I would like to think so. This model is able to provide an opportunity for many and builds a foundation for those who seek to be a part of the once exclusive publishing industry.

References

Allen, T. (2011, June 27). Crowdfunding: When the Publisher Doesn’t Cover the Creator’s Expenses. Retrieved November 9, 2015, from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/47781-crowdfunding-when-the-publisher-doesn-t-cover-the-creator-s-expenses.html

Bausells, M. (2015, June 5). Kickstarting a books revolution: The literary crowdfunding boom. Retrieved November 8, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/05/the-literary-crowdfunding-boom

Bearman, S. (n.d.). Crowdfunding for Authors: Is it right and is it right for you? Retrieved November 9, 2015, from http://writeitsideways.com/crowdfunding-for-authors-is-it-right-and-is-it-right-for-you/

Gartland, M. (n.d.). Will Crowdfunding Books Replace Author Advances and Further Empower Readers? Retrieved November 8, 2015, from http://winningedits.com/crowdfunding-books/

Harvey, E. (2014, August 1). How Crowdsourcing is Powering New Publishing Platforms. Retrieved November 9, 2015, from http://www.bookbusinessmag.com/article/how-crowdsourcing-powering-new-publishing-platforms/

Kaye, M. (2015, March 31). What You Need to Know About Crowdfunded Publishing. Jane Friedman. Retrieved November 9, 2015, from https://janefriedman.com/crowdfunded-publishing/

Øiestad, S., & Bugge, M. M. (2014). Digitisation of publishing: Exploration based on existing business models. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 83, 54-65.

Perry, J. (2015). 21st Century New Use Technology in the Book Publishing Industry and How Authors Can Better Protect Their New Use Technology Rights. Available at SSRN 2545103.

Publish Your Next Book with Crowdfunding. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2015, from http://positivewriter.com/crowdfunding/

Quinlan, M. (2012, June 22). The pros and cons of crowd funding. Retrieved November 9, 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/the-pros-and-cons-of-crowd-funding-1.1136449

Schimming, M. (2015). Changing Publisher-Author Relationships in the Midst of Developing Crowd-Funded Publishing Platforms.

Schofield, J. (n.d.). Crowdfunding and The Publishing Process – A Match Made In Literary Heaven. Retrieved November 9, 2015, from http://www.magnoliamedianetwork.com/crowdfunding-publishing/

Traditional vs. Alternative Publishing. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2015, from http://www.bookpassage.com/traditional-vs-alternative-publishing

If you are not using free, you will be competing with free – Peter Froberg

Shaping digital content becomes a major challenge for publishers as the shift from content to platform has resulted in the development of new business models. Traditionally, a focus on improved editing, design and marketing are the key features that a publisher develops and adapts to change. However, these changes are not sufficient enough to persist in the modern digital age because the internet has “facilitated the dissemination of artistic works by allowing users to mass distribute files within seconds”(Bittar, 2014, p.1). Instead, a continued integration of innovative solutions is needed where added value and personalized services are just as important as the content itself. Freemium, is the combination of the words “Free” and “Premium” and the idea behind this model is to offer a product or content for free while reserving additional content or services for paid users, also known as premium users. Even though freemium business models does not benefit niche products and content, by adopting the freemium business model, publishers are enabled to expand their audience reach which leads to an increase in revenue in a highly saturated digital market.

Free content is effective for converting users to paid subscribers as it lowers the barrier of entry for readers. Digital products are distributed through different channels and face different distribution cost structures. Often, the only costs associated with distributing a digital product are hosting expenses and platform fees. Low marginal distribution and production costs create the opportunity for a product to be adopted by a “large number of people, quickly, at little to no expense on the developer’s part”(Seufert, p.4,2014). With content being easily accessible via the internet, making content free can lower the barrier of entry for readers. Charging for content suggests that the quality of information is valuable to that certain reader and that they would not be able to find similar or related information elsewhere. A professional reader in search of information about a particular topic would be prepared to pay if it “provided better insight, highly relevant choice in the selected area, and is prepared to pay”(Book Industry Study Group 2013). However, occasional readers desire a range of information from various fields, therefore, such readers can withdraw from the purchase because of high prices as content is to niche for them (Book Industry Study Group 2013). The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times (NYT) each tried charging for access to some content online, then dropped the requirement because it cost them audience and advertising revenue(Salmon, 2011). The introduction of paywalls combined with a freemium strategy proved that freemium model can work in news industry. The NYT wanted to increase their user base, so they created a business strategy that was primarily a freemium model combined with a metered paywall, where users are able to read 10 articles for free. It allows anybody anywhere to read any NYT article they like, which makes them more “open and inviting”(Salmon, 2011). The premium features include, “Subscription to the print edition, digital access to all content on nytimes.com and mobile/tablet apps”(Froberg, 2015). In fact, the NYT after just four months,  converted 224,000 free users to paying ones, which had premium access to the NYT website. (Salmon, 2011). The NYT has taken a different approach and their paywall, which is a modal box that pops over the web browser after reaching your limit has allowed the company to increase its revenue by at least 18% from 2011 Q1 to 2014 Q4 (The New York Times, n.d.). This creates a situation where you can give away the core product for free and create a profitable business model from just up-selling to a few percent. If you hit the paywall on a regular basis and decide to dismiss it, eventually you start feeling a bit of guilt and pay up. One thing to note, if “freeloaders value what they’re getting, a lot of them will end up paying anyway” (Salmon, 2011). In addition, value of free users can take two forms: Some of them become subscribers, and some draw in new members who become subscribers. Typically, a free user is worth “15% to 25% as much as a premium subscriber, with significant value stemming from referrals” (Kumar, 2014). So, a free user can contribute to your revenue model through other means, such as helping publishers grow their user base through referrals and Word of Mouth.

By adopting the freemium business model, it enables publishers to drive engagement with readers and authors. Since you are giving away a core part of your business for free, it is crucial that publishers understand the needs of their users. To be profitable in a freemium business model, without strictly relying on advertisers, 80% of respondents believe that the combination of a subscription model with a freemium strategy would be inevitable (Despot, 2015). Premium features need to convince readers of its value of converting from a free user to a paying one. However, publishers realize that readers are not their only source of revenue and are creating business strategies that can engage multiple users to and have a monetization strategy from both the reader and author. Flat World Knowledge, a well-known textbook publisher, published their material under a Creative Commons license, which means that not only can “readers access the material for free, but they can also reuse it and modify it as they please”(Doscdoce,p.20,2015). Their business model consists of selling different downloadable formats of the same book in PDF format, chapters, and modules, while providing extra assistance. The business model coming from authors include “reduced publishing times, creativity support, and the chance to update their texts”(Doscdoce, p.20,2015). Whereas, the focus on the readers, which is students can read textbooks online for free and are only charged if they want to print the material on demand or if they want to download the eBook version (Dosdoce, p.23 2015).

In my opinion, another method that could help generate revenue could be offering the material for free in a single format, but charging for DRM (Digital Rights Management) free EPUB files so that content would work on multiple ecosystems. As defined by Bittar (2014), DRM is a technique that allows “copyright owners to enforce their rights by controlling what users can do with their digital files, for instance, DRM can determine under what circumstances, how many times, for how long, and on which platforms a user may access a file” (p.5, 2014). A restrictive DRM causes a lack of interoperability, which can increase barriers to entry, switching costs, and network effect, which locks consumers into an e-book ecosystem. In addition, the extent of the DRM restrictions imposed on a file is determined by the copyright holder, which raises serious concerns about users’ privacy and fair use(Bittar, p.20, 2014). Thus, the premium feature of offering an unrestricted DRM file format has a value proposition that allows readers to interact with multiple systems and read on different ebook device without getting “locked” down to one.

The freemium business model is a challenge for niche publishers as their target audience is much smaller. The broader the appeal of a product, the more potential users it can reach and the more widely it will be adopted. A broadly appealing product has a “widely applicable use case, or purpose” (Seufert,p.2,2014). Generally speaking, products that address a universal need, pain point, or genre of entertainment appeal to more people than do products that serve a specific niche. The freemium business model success relies on scaling the user base as there is a low proportion of users who monetize in freemium products, which contributes to the “necessity of large potential scale: a low percentage of monetizing users within a very large total user base might represent a respectable absolute number of people”(Seufert,p.4,2014).This concept is referred to as the 5% rule, or the understanding that “no more than 5% of a freemium product’s user base can be expected to monetize prior to product launch”(Seufert,p.5,2014). Therefore, a focus on growing a user base initially is crucial for publishers adopting this business model. A strategy to making this model work is to offer mixed variety of content, but also services and other features that can engage users to monetize. With topics that are niche, the initial target audience is too small to begin with and the potential for scale may be challenging for niche products and content.

Freemium includes a core of your business for free, but can offer a sustainable business model with additional payment for advanced functionality. The content packaging options and the methods for monetization of content or products will be a great challenge for publishers in the times ahead as premium features must engage users with a clear value proposition in order for free users to switch to paying users. Information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable as the right information in the right place can change your life. However, information wants to be “free because the cost of because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time”(Levy, 2010), so you have this tension between the two principles. With the saturated digital modern age, publishers are faced with having to create new business models and develop new publishing products and services, which will continue to have an impact on business models in the publishing industry.

References:

Bittar, A. (2014). Unlocking the Gates of Alexandria: DRM, Competition and Access to E-Books. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2620354

Book Industry Study Group. 2013. “Digital books and the new subscription economy, a major new BISG research study, releases today” Accessed November 23, 2014. https://www.bisg.org/news/digital-books-and-new-subscription-economy-major-new-bisg-research-study-releases-today

Despot, I. Lebeda, I. Tomasevic, N. (2015). “Freemium” business models in publishing. New packaging for the needs of readers in the digital age. Retrieved from http://libellarium.org/index.php/libellarium/article/view/216/314

Doscdoce.(2015). New Business Models in The Digital Age. Retrieved from http://www.dosdoce.com/upload/ficheros/noticias/201504/new_business_models_in_the_digital_age__bookmachine_special_edition.pdf

Froberg, P. (2015). Freemium: The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.freemium.org/new-york-times/

Kumar, V. (2014). Making “Freemium” Work. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/05/making-freemium-work

Levy, S. 2010. Hackers. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.

Salmon, F. (2011). How the New York Times PayWall is Working. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2011/08/new-york-times-paywall/

Salmon, F.(2011). The New York Times PayWall is Working. Retrieved from http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2011/07/26/the-nyt-paywall-is-working/

Seufert, E. (2014). The Freemium Business Model. Retrieved from http://scitechconnect.elsevier.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Chapter-1.pdf

The New York Times. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.responsiveads.com/new-york-times-paywall-starbucks-ads-local-advertisin/

Proliferation of Digital Publishing

Digital Publishing proliferation

Name: Jim Huang

Student Number: 301144358

Instructor: Juan Pablo Alperin

Proliferation of Digital Publishing

Review

One of the greatest challenge facing communication and media industry in the digital age is copyright challenge. The concern arises from continued infringement of authors’ right of publication as well as selecting and assigning their work to their heirs. The copyright law has been promoting the rights of the authors in the public domain by preventing copying or selling an author’s original work to encourage useful and creative writing (Menand, Toobin, & MacFarquhar, 2014). Besides, the copyright laws act as moral rights to give authors total control regarding the integrity and reproducibility of their creations. On the other hand, the improvement in technologies has exposed the artistic works, and the authors are at risk of losing their rights because of conflict between public and private interests. The new technologies have made it easier to disseminate files within seconds via the internet (Menand, Toobin, & MacFarquhar, 2014). In the midst of the current disconnect, this paper seeks to discuss new approaches that have been adopted to safeguard plight of artists. The introduction of the digital rights management has allowed authors to combat piracy. The technique allows copyright owners to control the access of their files by users on digital platforms (Morgan, 2011). The shift from traditional publishing models allows authors to restrict the platforms where the users can access their files, thus, preventing piracy. The anti-circumvention law protects the digital rights management.

 

Evolution of Digital Publishing

The creative artistic works are mainly marketed via the internet to increase the proceeds and benefit the copyright owners. The internet disseminates large files within seconds, thus, exposing to the risk of piracy and duplication without permission (O’Leary, 2013). The most realistic solution for the authors has for long being the creative commons license (Morgan, 2011). The creative commons license protects the works of an individual in a manner that he can reach large audience in a faster way than the use of such conventional methods as ‘all rights reserved’. The license allows the works of a person to be raised and shared under flexible and legally sound terms (Menand, Toobin, & MacFarquhar, 2014).

The advancement of technology has made authors to get many avenues to make a living even without direct sales of their contents. The creative commons license can allow the authors to make a living even without selling their contents directly. For instance, the authors promote the aspect of attribution where the author can let other people use and distribute his works. The law requires people to distribute but also share personal work too not for profit. The work of an author can be used but not altered (O’Leary, 2013). Therefore, people approach the author with ideas that go beyond the license. People can approach the author with a movie idea based on his work; thus, the author can make a living even without selling the content directly.

The creative commons license helps the authors to make decision on their ideas and works whether to keep them or get distributed for their benefits. A successful author who sells must be widely known by creating a global presence. Giving the e-book versions on the internet under a creative commons license increases the global presence of an author, thus, reaching potential customers easily (O’Leary, 2013). A creative commons license promotes collaboration, therefore, expanding the fan base and spreading the authors’ work much farther than an individual could. The license ensures that the author gets the credit they deserve for their works. The author is not prevented from selling for making profit using personal works unless the contract signed with the publisher indicates otherwise (Thatcher, 2015).

The digital printing via the internet provides a platform for interaction with the customers. There is an end-to-end connectivity across the World Wide Web. The book-based communities that are created in the digital realms provide access to the digital versions of the book content, and the author makes a living by customer subscriptions. The publishers are involved in creating and sustaining community ties using digital printing (O’Leary, 2013). The subscriptions to access the books are sold to individuals and institution under the creative commons license. The subscriptions enable the buyers to access the databases. Therefore, they are beneficial for the authors as they are offered under the creative commons license with a great degree of flexibility (Thatcher, 2015).

The use of published research by a third party can be granted by the author under contractual agreements. Once authors publish their work under the creative commons license, they cannot prevent the use under the specified terms until the expiry of the copyright (Kim, 2007). The author can make the copyright available under different terms and conditions or waive the existing conditions to grant additional permissions (Thatcher, 2015). For instance, a work assigned under a creative commons license with a non-commercial clause can be altered through contact with a publisher to include a chapter in an edited collection. The edited collections earn the author profit (Kim, 2007). Besides, a license negotiated directly with publishers under the normal copyright conditions makes the author access some fee through it. Therefore, the creative commons license allows the authors as the creators of the content to be precise on how others may use their work. The copyright ownership moves from the publisher to the author (Kim, 2007).

Business Models for Publishing

The print media has been explored endlessly. Thus, the traditional business models have been broken, and the new digital printing will solve problems of both the authors and publishers. Advertising of the works has fragmented to include social networks, aggregators, and blogs to increase the customer base for the authors (Calder & Yngve, 2012). Although the content has been expensive, they are paid for it online. Publishers have been able to reach wider audiences in the newly emerging digital platforms, thus, increasing competition. The publishers can reach wider audiences freely than ever before in the digital printing (Blanke, Pierazzo, & Stokes, 2014).

Scholarly publishing in every media requires substantial resources above the ones required to create contents. Upon the arrival of digital publishing, there was a misconception that the role of the publishers would disappear and start distributing materials for the readers. The publishers play a very crucial role in the production and distribution of materials. They make the readers connected to the authors (Blanke, Pierazzo, & Stokes, 2014). The traditional publishers focused more on library subscriptions as their model of increasing revenues. The models of moving away from the books to monetizing of services have been crucial in making the authors earn a living even without directly selling their books to the customers.

The models of subscription and access have been the alternative to purchase, and consumers have widely accepted them. They operate under offer-on-demand convenience-book subscription models. Publishers use the mass market e-subscriptions to reach the audience. The subscription model in the digital era offers the authors products on a continuous basis for a recurring charge (Thatcher, 2015). However, the copyright of the products is retained by the authors preventing third party alterations. They are the common pricing options for the books and other artistic works utilized by online services and media companies. The model has been effective for the authors to get paid for their work without even meeting the customers through automatic cash flow payments. An automatic source of recurring revenue is availed to the authors (Thatcher, 2015).

The most common subscriptions have been for the magazines and articles on different topics. The customers pay an annual fee to continue receiving the content through their devices either on the monthly, weekly or daily basis. The advantage of the subscription business model in the digital publishing proliferation is that the publishers and the authors are guaranteed a recurring cash flow even in the cases of customers that are not regular users of the services (Herman & Gylling, 2015). There is the significant amount of subscribers who continue to pay without using the services for the benefit of the authors. The authors benefit more under the creative commons license as the sole owners of the copyright. However, the subscription business model of publishing faces such challenges as lack of automatic renewal by some of the audience. Some customers tend to resist automatic renewals for their e-book subscriptions preferring the physical products (Herman & Gylling, 2015). The subscription publishing models are beneficial in that they offer medium revenue potential that can go to high levels.

The evolving and the digital technological proliferation in the communication and media industry aim at eliminating inconvenience in accessing the artistic works and the books. The subscription and access model using the creative commons license ensures that the author’s materials are distributed but not altered (Gantz, 2013). The sharing of ideas promotes creativity as the authors get different ideas to use their content from the subscribers. Besides, the subscription models improve the relationship between the authors and the audiences through interaction. Subscription and access are viable models for the readers, the publishers, and the authors. Apart from improving the authors’ creativity, the model increases competition in the sector that is crucial to the expansion of the industry (Herman & Gylling, 2015).

The competition is improved by an increase in the audience reach; thus, the authors must improve their content to be successful in the model. The subscription model offers cost-saving advantages to the end users who are the readers. The subscription is discounted for the readers rather than the normal physical buys of the books and journals. Besides, the publishers access many audiences contrary to the physical interaction. The online subscription of different artistic works gives the publishers a lucrative opportunity for marketing (Gantz, 2013). The subscription business model requires the prompt solving of customer problems to promote confidence and their loyalty (Herman & Gylling, 2015). The value propositions for the readers are high as materials are availed to them at a reasonable price compared to other models such as pay as you read.

The customer relationships are based on self and automated services to keep the costs down. The target of the model is mainly the mass market for creating a significant customer base. Most customers have appreciated the proliferation of subscription offers by sustaining their access. Once the books are published in the open access under the Creative Commons license, the doubt of copyright concerns is eliminated. The integrity of direct subscriptions is directed to the customers who are the readers. Most of the subscribers benefit from privacy by the publishers as their details are hidden (Gantz, 2013). The subscription model drives innovation by engaging the customers. Besides, the model creates more incentives to innovate. The subscription publishing model has been embraced by many publishers, authors, and readers, and it is in the process of evolution to continue benefitting the stakeholders.

References

Blanke, T., Pierazzo, E., & Stokes, P. (2014). Digital Publishing Seen from the Digital Humanities. Logos, 25(2), 16-27. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1878-4712-11112041

Calder, P., & Yngve, A. (2012). Open Access, the Creative Commons Attribution License, and the Nutrition Society journals. British Journal of Nutrition, 108(11), 1913-1914. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/s0007114512004928

Gantz, P. (2013). Journal print subscription price increases no longer reflect actual costs. Learned Publishing, 26(3), 206-210. http://dx.doi.org/10.1087/20130309

Herman, I., & Gylling, M. (2015). Bridging the Web and Digital Publishing. The Journal of Electronic Publishing, 18(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0018.106

Kim, M. (2007). The Creative Commons and Copyright Protection in the Digital Era: Uses of Creative Commons Licenses. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 187-209. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00392.x

Menand, L., Toobin, J., & MacFarquhar, L. (2014). Copywrong – The New Yorker. The New Yorker. Retrieved 5 November 2015, from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/20/crooner-rights-spat

Morgan, C. (2011). Understanding the Creative Commons license. Learned Publishing, 24(1), 51-53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1087/20110108

O’Leary, B. (2013). Why Do We Ignore Context Publishing?. Magellan Media Partners. Retrieved 5 November 2015, from http://magellanmediapartners.com/publishing-innovation/disaggregating_supply/

Thatcher, S. (2015). Open-Access Monograph Publishing and the Origins of the Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing at Penn State University. Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 46(3), 203-223. http://dx.doi.org/10.3138/jsp.46.3.01

Hope For the Little Guy: How Crowdfunding Helps Out the New Author

For me the biggest dream, the biggest accomplishment, would be to become a published author, a novelist. I’d always imagined – hoped – it would happen like it did for J.K. Rowling, which is to say that I’d be picked up by a publisher and become an author in the traditional way. For a long time I believed this was the only way to publish a book, and up until recently I still believed this was the only viable way to become a real writer (nor am I the only one to feel inclined towards traditional publishing for certain reasons). Then the world of self-publishing was introduced to me, along with it questions about what that might involve and whether it could be viable for wannabe writers. There are many different ways of self-publishing, one of which has been kicking off in recent years based on crowdfunding. I was quite intrigued by the crowdfunding model of publishing, mostly because I could actually see myself using it (opposed to other self-publishing methods I’ve read about). Crowdfunded publishing is appealing to authors because it gives them a way to get their content out without being controlled by the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, and provides funds to do so in ways other forms of self-publishing cannot. In a world where crowdfunded publishing has grown into the norm, it is the wannabe writer who benefits the most. They have a greater chance at becoming successful writers this way than they do with the system as it sits today.

Crowdfunding essentially works like this: you propose your project, set up an amount goal for how much you would like to raise, then start marketing like crazy. If people are interested in your campaign, they can pledge you money. If you reach your goal in the allotted amount of time then your campaign was a success and you can then move on with your project, following through on whatever promises you made to those who pledged you money, and then it’s happy endings all around (obviously I’m leaving a lot out, but you get the picture).

Crowdfunded publishing follows the same process but I will be talking specifically about two different veins an author can use, depending on what they wish to achieve. One way is to use a fundraising platform, such as Publishizer, that will help authors to raise funds to later publish their book. There are many different fundraising platforms to choose from, but regardless of which platform they choose, it will be up to them, once their campaign has succeeded, to find the services they need to publish their book using the money they’ve raised. Another option authors can choose is to use a platform that helps to raise money in the same way but will then go on to publish the successful books themselves, such as Inkshares. Regardless of which vein out of these two an author chooses, the possibilities opened by crowdfunded publishing bring a whole set of new dynamics to the creative process and industry, largely due to the interactivity between author and reader that can be very beneficial, especially to the first-time author.

For authors, new or old, crowdfunding is a great chance to test whether or not their story is marketable – in other words, do people actually want to read their story? An editor of a publishing company may love their story, but when it comes time to actually sell the book, the general populace may not agree that it is worth buying. Crowdfunding bypasses the middleman and gets information straight from an audience; it will indicate more directly whether there is any interest in the story and how significant that interest is. Authors can more easily gauge their stories like this – what do they keep and what do they change? Is this a viable story option, or should they scrap it and try again with something else? (A painful realisation, but better to find out before completion than after.) New/wannabe authors have no previous books to go off of; they have no sense of market for potential books nor an audience to market to, both of which are potential black marks for traditional publishers simply because it makes it harder to sell if there’s no pre-established audience. Crowdfunding a book idea or story segments allows new authors to test the waters in a way that wouldn’t be financially smart for traditional publishers – why should they risk losing money on some no-name author? The biggest thing at risk when crowdfunding a book is the authors’ feelings, because if they don’t end up reaching their goal, the donors aren’t charged and so no one loses money (this may vary by site, but overall there is not a great financial risk being taken, other than the occasional fee from the site, and even then fees usually only apply when the project succeeds). Crowdfunding gives new authors the chance to find a market without really risking anyone’s financial status.

Of course, seeing whether or not their story is marketable depends on the author’s ability to market in the first place. This is where crowdfunding may let down the more introverted author. Authors who know how to market themselves and their books are more likely to be successful at crowdfunding for their books than an author too shy to ask people for money, so were this model to become the standard model, those authors who can market may take off and get all the attention, leaving those less capable without a chance. Crowdfunding is often (but not necessarily) most successful when the author either already has an established platform (blogs, social media accounts with many followers, etc.) or is capable of getting one up and running successfully. Crowdfunding can be a great tool for an author, but they must work for it to work. However, these days many publishers appear to be marketing books less than they used to, especially for lesser-known authors, so authors need to be marketing for themselves no matter how they choose to publish. Sorry introverts. The benefit of crowdfunding, especially to the new author who loses out on marketing from a traditional publisher, is that it’s an additional way to reach people and gain a readership, and is possibly more effective than traditional self-marketing (tweeting and Facebook posts can only do so much) because it brings the reader into direct relation with the product.

Direct relation to the product, or interactivity between the author and reader, is one of the most beneficial outcomes of crowdfunded publishing, and could be what makes this model so beneficial to authors (new or experienced) and possibly even to publishing as a whole. I should specify that this is interactivity while the book is still in the process of being written. That there is interactivity at all is amazing on its own – traditional publishing, even different kinds of self-publishing, usually will not have any audience interaction until after the book is out; in traditional publishing this is mostly due to its process restricting the possibility for this, while self-publishing at its most basic mimics this process (the process is as it is done presently – there could be a future where the generic publishing formula includes audience interaction throughout its stages, but in that case, why not make crowdfunding the norm since it already does this?). The crowdfunding model of publishing allows for ongoing interactivity during the writing process and reader feedback in ways that have not been built into other, more traditional methods of publishing. Readers really have a chance to become involved with the book, not only by funding it (and therefore indicating that yes, they want it) but by becoming even more directly involved by author invitation to suggest ideas for it. Many of the crowdfunding platforms also provide the option for “extras”, where depending on how much a person pledges they can receive extra stuff such as a one-on-one meet with the author. This is a good way for the author to get people to pledge more than the basic amount, and presents fun bonuses for the audience that may otherwise not have been made available to them. With the possibility, inevitability even, of the author-reader interaction that is provided by crowdfunding, a viable model could come from this where a book is written and commissioned based entirely on what the audience wants. While this hasn’t happened yet (not noticeably at least), readers who want to know more about the writing process or the chance to get involved in the creative process will have much better luck turning to crowdfunded projects than alternative methods.

How does crowdfunded author-reader interactivity help new authors? Again, it goes back to being given the chance to establish an audience and being able to gain that audience’s opinion throughout the writing of the novel, wherein traditional publishing this chance is non-existent because it lacks that same interactivity. New authors can use reader suggestions in ways established authors may not be able to. Established writers, simply from the fact that they are already established, have reader expectations they must live up to. Readers expect them to write in certain genres for example. They may not be able to branch out in a crowdfunded book because their current readers like what they already do and may not support any change. New authors though have no reader expectations; they’re not locked into a certain genre or style or even audience. If crowdfunded publishing becomes more popular among readers, new authors may actually have an advantage over established authors.

Publishers may be weary of crowdfunding sites, especially those aimed specifically at generating books because they may consider them competitors, but I don’t think this needs to be the case. Crowdfunded books could be very beneficial to a publisher if they embrace the crowdfunding platforms that then go on to publish the books that have been campaigned successfully, as in the second vein of crowdfunded publishing I mentioned earlier. If a publisher chooses to use this model, authors can submit to them as they would to a book-specific crowdfunding site such as Unbound. According to Unbound, this model is the way to go for publishers wishing to make it in the online world. With a successful campaign, where money is coming in from lots of people hoping to see this book finished, the publisher knows ahead of time that there is a market and an eager audience for the book. This is good for the publisher because they have a greater sense of who to target, and it is good for the author because they’re already seeing financial success from a book they haven’t even fully written yet. Then when the funds raised during the campaign are used by the publisher to publish the book, the publisher can worry less about taking a hit if the book doesn’t end up doing so well because at least some of the cost of publishing was covered, depending on how much was raised. If crowdfunding were to take off and join with publishing like this, new authors may be more likely to get published and become successful because the risk of the new will be less daunting than in traditional publishing.

Crowdfunded publishing is a really exciting idea – exciting because it may actually work as an alternative to traditional publishing. As long as an author can get over any fears they may have about asking for money and attention, there is room for authors to be very successful at crowdfunding their books. If this model continues to grow and mould itself, the wannabe, new author may just be able to become the successful, real author in ways traditional publishing simply cannot offer. Given the chance to test their idea in the market, to find people who want to read their book, and to interact with them in the creation of that book, crowdfunding has created a great formula for the new author trying to get published, a better formula that doesn’t leave out the wannabe from the creative world.
Works Cited

Anderson, Porter. “Self-Publishing and the Industry: Implications and Impact.” Publishing Perspectives. N.p., 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Bearman, Susan. “Crowdfunding for Authors: Is it right and is it right for you?” Write It Sideways. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Bransford, Nathan. “How a Book Gets Published.” Nathan Bransford. N.p., 25 Aug. 2009. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Dmatriccino. “Why Don’t Publishers Market & Promote the Books They Publish?” Writer’s Digest. N.p., 19 April 2010. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Galley, Ben. “How to Crowdfund Your Book.” Publishing Talk. N.p., 18 May 2015. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Gartland, Matt. “Will Crowdfunding Books Replace Author Advances and Further Empower Readers?” Winning Edits. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Hesse, Jason. “Crowdfunding Authors’ Books Could Save Publishing.” Forbes. N.p., 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Hogue, Joseph. “Ultimate List of Crowdfunding and Fundraising Websites.” Crowd 101. N.p., 28 July 2015. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.

Inkshares. Inkshares, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Kaye, Matt. “What You Need to Know About Crowdfunded Publishing.” Jane Friedman. N.p., 31 March 2015. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Kellogg, Carolyn. “Authors Prefer Traditional Publishers to Self-Publishing. Surprised?” Los Angeles Times. N.p., 9 Jan. 2014. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Prive, Tanya. “What Is Crowdfunding And How Does It Benefit The Economy.” Forbes. N.p., 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.

Publishizer. Publishizer, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Rich, Jason R. “The Major Steps in the Self-Publishing Process.” Self-Publishing for Dummies Cheat Sheet. For Dummies, n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Schofield, Justine. “Publish Your Next Book with Crowdfunding.” Positive Writer. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Sweeney, Joe. “Everything You Need to Know About Crowdfunding.” The Simple Dollar. N.p., 1 Dec. 2014. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Tart, Nicholas. “7 Things I Learned from Publishing a Book.” Income. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Unbound. Unbound, n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Weinberg, Dana Beth. “Author Survey Results: Expectations of Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing.” DBW. N.p., 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

The Pay What You Want (PWYW) Business Model

Free spreads faster than expensive, low cost items are purchased more often and in larger quantities than luxury goods, and when price is not a barrier, more people buy (and share). So if a self-published author or publisher wants to reach more people, they should lower the price of their book(s). Free is the best option but free lowers the perceived value of a book, destroys revenue and does not validate the book being offered. Why? Because people take things for free simply because the product or service being offered is free, not particularly caring for it. So where is the line between free and paid, where authors and publishers can distribute their book(s) to as many people as possible without the negative effects mentioned above? Enter the Pay-What-You-Want (PWYW) business model.

Under this business model, customers are in control and pay a publisher or author (if self-published) what they feel is a fair price for their book. A suggested price is stated, that is the price made by the author or publisher of how much they feel the book is worth so the customer can pay that, nothing at all or anything above $0 (Tuttle, 2014). In short, the customer determines the value of the book – reflected in the amount they paid. The PWYW model thus gives the undecided customer a reason to buy. When the price barrier is removed, customers are compelled to spend what they consider to be a fair price for the book. Publishers and authors also maximise the number of people paying for the book since customers may not have purchased the book had the price been a few dollars higher.

American author, Stephen King decided to use the PWYW model in 2000 for his serial novel, The Plant. King strictly published The Plant as an ebook using an honour system. Readers were asked to pay $1 per installment and King said he would keep writing if three-quarters of those who downloaded paid their $1. In the end, less than half of the people downloading paid so King never completed the novel. However, King later revealed that The Plant made him $463 832 (Gans, 2011). I am not sure if this would work for any other author than King or any author of his calibre who does not have a loyal following and a strong, popular presence in mainstream society. Although King still profited off The Plant, his PWYW model did not work since less than half of the downloaders paid their $1 and the amount of money he made is a rare case (since he is a reputable and well-established author). The PWYW model acts more as an experiment than a long term business model for growth and sustainability. Large publishers and well-established authors can afford to gamble on the PWYW business model and walk away successful but for the unknown and aspiring authors, PWYW is not a viable business model that they should be replicating. There is too much risk and not enough profit coming back into their pockets. But what the PWYW model does for every author and publisher is that it gives them exposure because PWYW is still considered a unique and exclusive business model that customers love since they determine the price they pay for a product.

That being said, there have been success stories with unknown authors who have used the PWYW model and received higher royalties than if they sold their ebook on Amazon. Author, Tom Morkes used the PWYW model to publish his ebook that made him $493.50 in the first month of the book’s release. 49% of readers paid for the ebook, with the average price at $14.15 of $1.00 or more sales and $7.15 of overall sales (Morkes, 2013). If Morkes sold his ebook on Amazon, he would not of had the same success if he priced his book at $15 because many of the downloaders who took the book for free or contributed under $15 promoted the book to their network. As a result, more people visited Morkes’s website, giving him exposure. Moreover, the majority of self-published books on Amazon are priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Any higher or lower, Amazon cuts royalties from 70% to 35% (Amazon, n.d.). This means readers are not used to higher priced ebooks so Morkes’s $15 ebook would be largely ignored, especially since he is a first time author. Although the PWYW model works for Morkes, I am unsure if using the model will bring in a steady income for Morkes and unknown authors as a whole because making nearly $500 in the first month is not nearly enough to live comfortably. Who knows how much Morkes made in the subsequent months but it is probably less than his opening month. In the end, the PWYW model should only be used for unknown authors if they are writing as a hobby and have another steady stream of income. It is not a dependable long term business model to be reliant upon.  

However, if unknown authors are hoping to drive sales to their other work, they should consider OpenBooks.com, an ebookstore that opened in March 2015 where prospective buyers are told to read first and PWYW later. Like Amazon, authors receive 70% of royalties (OpenBooks.com, n.d.). Although the average conversion rate is 1.08%, OpenBooks is a young and fresh company that is passionate about their authors. They will promote their author’s book on their social media and blog, and can drive customers to their other work (Siler, 2015). For unknown authors, OpenBooks.com is an option where extra money can flow in and gives authors a platform to boost themselves and their work, and generate hype and buzz.

For large publishers and well known authors on the other hand, I see the PWYW model as more of a marketing strategy than a business model that will change how people pay for goods and services. The problem with the PWYW model is that it involves too much risk for authors and publishers because consumers can decide not to pay for the book yet still receive it. Take OnlyIndie, an online bookstore that specialises in new and independent authors for example. Every ebook sold starts at $0. Only after the first fifteen downloads does OnlyIndie begin to charge for their ebooks. Cent by cent, the ebooks reach a fixed price that ranges between $2 and $8. Authors receive 50% royalties of the sale price on books priced up to $1.99 and 75% for books from $2 to $7.98. Authors get royalty statements and checks every two weeks and can set their own upper limit on the price of a book as long as it is below $7.98 (Greenfield, 2012). OnlyIndie has since closed because it could not compete with the likes of Amazon, even with its niche market and attractive pricing.  

However, it might be valuable for authors and publishers to consider using the PWYW model as a short term strategy for traffic and sales. For example, in 2007, Paste Magazine offered readers a one year subscription using the PWYW model in a campaign that lasted two weeks. The time limit was crucial to motivate Paste fans to take the next step and accept the magazine’s offer to subscribe. By the end of the campaign, Paste made $275,000 and 30,000 new subscribers, averaging to $9 per subscription (Sattersten, 2010). In turn, many companies decided to advertise in Paste because of the buzz created by the campaign, allowing the magazine to raise its advertising rates. Paste’s campaign demonstrates that PWYW is a low risk, high reward situation for customers since they have the opportunity to test out the magazine without committing, and are potentially long term customers if Paste’s content can prove itself to be valuable.

Even though I am still skeptical of PWYW’s long term durability, I like what Humble Bundle is doing. They run on a PWYW model where customers decide how to allocate their purchase dollars between the author, charities and Humble Bundle. If customers pay more than the suggested price, they receive additional works of the author’s they purchased, thus giving customers incentive to pay more. Plus, customers are giving to charity which always makes them feel like they are positively contributing to society. Bestselling author Neil Gaiman put an exclusive bundle of his rare work on Humble Bundle for two weeks in September 2015. If customers paid more than $15, they also received Gaiman’s first published book, a biography of the band Duran Duran, and an unpublished short story, “Manuscript from a Milk Bottle,” among others exclusive content (Holub, 2015). Although no statistics have been released from Humble Bundle or Gaiman about his bundle’s results, Gaiman nevertheless garnered a lot of attention online during the bundle period, with many news articles from The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, and The Guardian written about his exclusive bundle. Even American comedian, Amy Schumer tweeted to the world about Gaiman’s bundle, urging them to buy it (Holub, 2015). Again, Gaiman is a bestselling author with a visible author platform. He does not use the PWYW model for all his books, just a carefully selected few. Gaiman’s bundle demonstrates that the PWYW model works when there is a time limit on the product being offered and when the author is already well-established in his community and mainstream society.  

While the PWYW business model works for everyone involved – publishers, authors, and readers – with the readers/customers getting the most out of the model, I still question its long-term sustainability. There is something about PWYW’s exclusivity that makes the model desirable and “too good to be true” in the eyes of the customer, especially when authors and publishers put a time limit on the featured product(s). So when all authors start using this business model, customers will take this practice as a norm and over time, customers will just download books for free for the simple fact that they are free. While free is the ideal for customers, authors and publishers still need to make a living so using PWYW in increments is a smart strategy to generate revenue and more than anything, increase exposure to the author or publisher and their book on offer. As Paste magazine and Gaiman demonstrate, putting a time limit on a PWYW product works best because there is a sense of urgency for the customer and they are more likely to ‘pay now’ than contemplate about buying the product(s).

 

Reference List

Amazon. (n.d.). List Price Requirements. Retrieved from https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A301WJ6XCJ8KW0

Burton, B. (2015, September, 09). Get rarities by author Neil Gaiman — and pay what you want for them. CNet. Retrieved from http://www.cnet.com/news/pay-what-you-want-for-neil-gaiman-rarities-on-humble-bundle/

Flood, A. (2015, October 23). Pay-what-you-want ebooks ‘bundle’ makes $1.1 m in two weeks. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/oct/23/pay-what-you-want-ebooks

Gans, J. (2011, May 03). Pay-What-You-Want Experiments, from Stephen King to Kickstarter. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2011/05/pay-what-you-want-experiments

Greenfield, J. (2012, June 25). OnlyIndie Wants to Sell Your Book for $0 and a Penny More. Digital Book World. Retrieved from http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2012/onlyindie-wants-to-sell-your-book-for-0-and-a-penny-more/

Holub, C. (2015, September, 21). Neil Gaiman is giving away a bunch of rarities for charity. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.ew.com/article/2015/09/21/neil-gaiman-humble-bundle

Morkes, T. (2013, August 20). Generosity Pays: Results from Launching a “Pay What You Want” eBook [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://fizzle.co/sparkline/generosity-pays-results-from-launching-a-pay-what-you-want-ebook

OpenBooks.com (n.d.), Quick Guide for True Talent. Retrieved from https://openbooks.com/how-to-publish

Qoora. (2015, May 29). You Can Earn As Much Or More From A Pay-What-You-Want Model As From A Fixed Price Model. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2015/05/29/you-can-earn-as-much-or-more-from-a-pay-what-you-want-model-as-from-a-fixed-price-model/

Sattersten, T. (2010, February 16). Paste Magazine’s Pay-What-You-Want Experiment [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://toddsattersten.com/2010/02/16/paste-magazines-pay-what-you-want/

Siler, M.L. (2015, June 20). On Openbooks.com and who should be using it [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://infinitefreetime.com/2015/06/20/on-openbooks-com-and-who-should-be-using-it/

Tuttle, B. (2014, November 11). A Brief History of ‘Pay What You Want’ Businesses. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/money/3576844/pay-what-you-want-businesses/

Zell, K. (2013, August 05). Do Pay What You Want Models Work? Spinnakr. Retrieved from http://spinnakr.com/blog/ideas/2013/08/do-pay-what-you-want-models-work/

 

Applying a Webcomics Business Model to Serialized Literature

by Roni Simunovic

It’s obvious to anyone familiar with the two industries that books and comics publishing are dissimilar for creators, publishers, readers and retailers, despite both dealing with similar traditional models: artists and/or writers create work, which is managed, compiled and distributed by a publisher to a series of online and brick-and-mortar retailers for purchase by readers. But, where indie publishing is concerned in both industries, things start to vary. Book publishers have the option of self-publishing, either through a vanity press or an on-demand self-publisher—a quick Google search turns up hundreds of these organizations in Canada alone—but the outcome is usually the same: a print book or ebook, usually produced at some cost to the author and distributed by any means they see fit, with or without the help of a distributor. In the comics world, however, it’s much more common for creators to start a webcomic, meaning, a serialized comics posted online, with some regularity, by an independent creator. The comic itself can be read for free, but creators are supported by three main revenue sources: placing web ads on their site, selling print books and collections, and accepting donations, usually via Patreon, a crowdfunding service for creators founded in 2013, where backers pledge a certain amount of money every month in exchange for access to backer-only extras like concept sketches, extra content and livestreams—sort of like an ongoing, indefinite version of Kickstarter. Print comic books are sold, usually funded by a Kickstarter campaign or in partnership with an online comics retailer like TopatoCo or Hiveworks, but they contain the same comics available online for free, and are usually purchased by readers to show support for the creator as opposed to being the main form of content consumption. This business model has been the norm in webcomics for some time, where a creator’s biggest strength is their audience, and their success is made or broken by word of mouth, online popularity and social media use. Many webcomics creators—for example, Noelle Stevenson (Nimona) and Meredith Gran (Octopus Pie)—have had their comics picked up by mainstream publishers as a result of their success, and others are able to make some kind of wage through this model, which suggests that it isn’t a total failure financially.

With that being said, my question is: what if the webcomics business model were applied to literature? There is currently no webcomics business model operating for literature, or if there is, it is not widely popular. Printed serial novels have a long history in cultures worldwide. You could argue that they’ve lost popularity in North America since the days of Charles Dickens, but a form of serialized micro-lit called “cell phone novels,” which are short novels sent in pieces to readers via SMS, has become immensely popular in Japan and has taken root in other countries, including China, Italy, Brazil and India. Likewise, serial fiction is massively popular online in the form of fan fiction—primarily on Archive of Our Own, a site dedicated to hosting transformative fan works—and although this is not monetized, the popularity of fan fiction shows an interest in reading serial fiction online. If literature were to adapt a webcomics business model, it would look something like an amalgamation of the aforementioned forms: writers would serialize work for free on their own websites (although possibly with less frequency than webcomics, which can update 3–5 times per week) and gain revenue through ads, selling print books to interested fans, and collecting Patreon-style donations.

There is so much to consider when discussing a webcomics business model for literature. Just because it’s working for independent comics creators does not mean it would work for writers. It would mean that print books would become a luxury item only for dedicated fans, because work could be read for free online and disseminated freely, and the role of authors, publishers and readers would change immensely were this model to become the norm.

Viability for authors

On a micro level, there would be pros and cons for authors under a webcomics business model. They would need certain hardware and know-how: their own computer, Internet access, and the ability to create a website or pay someone else to do so. But, this model also allows for virtually no gatekeepers: anyone can purchase a domain, create a website, and make their work available online for free. There’s no real need for publishers under this model, which, on the other hand, would mean that it could be a labour-intensive process for authors: they would do their own editing, web maintenance, ad sales, campaign management and shipping, as well as being their own promoter. And, without a traditional publisher, dissemination would be a largely independent venture, resulting in a greater cost to the author for web hosting, purchasing ads and the possibility of shipping books and other merchandise. There would also be issues with the form of the content itself: serialization lends itself to fiction. The majority of non-fiction, especially reference texts, history or textbook-style non-fiction, would be disjointed and impractical if released in a serialized, chronological order, which is probably why serialized non-fiction has yet to take off. Creative non-fiction, however, like collections of essays or memoirs, could work well serialized.

This model would also change things for authors at a macro level, when looking at implications of this model for a greater community of writers and the creative industry as a whole. Authors would have to place greater emphasis on networking and brand-building in order to get noticed in lieu of a publisher who promotes them in traditional marketplaces. Audience would become currency in place of book sales, because the wider audience a creator has, the higher their web traffic and thus, the higher their ad revenue. Likewise, audience and popularity would play a different role online than they do in the current publishing industry. When a work is consumed almost entirely online, as would be the case with the webcomics business model, social media replaces the merchandising that currently takes place at bookstores. Instead of having your book visible on shelves or newsstands, you have people talking about your work online and sharing links. This also leads to a closer relationship with readers. In the traditional publishing model, authors rarely interact with readers. For example, JK Rowling may respond to occasional fan tweets, but her livelihood as an author does not depend on her engaging an audience on Twitter, because her books are (and have already been) marketed through other channels. Online serialization, by its very nature, requires active, frequent interaction: an author posts, then shares the update via social media, which invites responses. Under this model, authors would create a tighter-knit community between one another, as well, because without the support of a publisher, it becomes more beneficial for individuals in the industry to support one another through cross-promotion.

Affects on the publishing industry

If the webcomics business model became prevalent for literature, publishers would become less of a necessity than they are now. In this model, print books would be a luxury item, so publishers would not be able to exist in their current state, which deals largely with the creation, distribution and promotion of print books. However, they could adapt to survive, like Hiveworks has done in the webcomics world: Hiveworks assists creators with advertising, marketing, web hosting, e-commerce, scheduling, and crowdfunding efforts, and provides community and a storefront for creators in exchange for a cut of advertising and merchandise revenue; all content rights remain with the creator. If this model were applied to literature, the above list of services would include editing, proofreading and fact checking, and publishers would act as a support network for authors, as opposed to the “gatekeeper” position they currently occupy. Any author could put their work online and benefit from this business model, and although they would benefit from the help of a publisher, they would not require one to get their work to the reading public. You could argue that, with the growing popularity of self-publishing, authors don’t require a publisher now, either, but a self-published book gaining success seems more like an anomaly than a norm under the current system.

The role of readers

This business model would work in favour of readers in a big way. Readers would get to read serialized literature for free, and have the choice of supporting authors through crowdfunding campaigns or by buying merchandise like print books. They would be able to read on any device that could connect to the Internet, and would not be limited to a dedicated ebook reader (which I would view as a positive thing, but ebook fans might not). And, as a result of all promotion and dissemination moving to an online realm with an increased reliance on social media, readers would have more chances to interact with authors. If the webcomics business model were to be applied to literature, I think readers would benefit the most out of any group, as they would receive free content and the choice to financially support authors.

Limitations

Outside of the above points, there are some larger issues with applying the webcomics business model to literature. If we have the means to do this now, and why isn’t it already happening? Some of the only thriving literary communities that operate successfully via serial fiction, as previously mentioned, are fan fiction communities. Although there are extremely talented writers in these communities, whose stories gain thousands of views in a matter of weeks, there’s a divide between the amount of original fiction and fan fiction online. These authors aren’t writing original fiction or, if they are, they aren’t posting it.

So, why aren’t authors serializing original work online? I think the answer to this lies in the visual culture of the Internet. People do read online, but on the social networks discussed here, most popular content is art, illustration or photography. Consider Tumblr, which is a main social media platform used for promotion in the webcomics business model, meaning that creators post content there, use it to notify readers of updates, and interact with readers. Tumblr gives users the ability to post text and quotes, but the reality is that Tumblr is largely a visual platform: the vast majority of things that get shared are photos, art, illustration and comics, and if there is a literary community on Tumblr, it’s of a much lower profile than illustration and comics communities. Why this is happening would require in-depth research, but to scratch the surface, I would posit that it’s because reading is a greater time investment; you can look at a photograph or drawing online and take a couple seconds to process it, but reading a short story could take twenty minutes or longer, which is a sort of delayed gratification. So, while the webcomics business model is working well for indie comics creators, there are a number of barriers that prevent it from working for authors creating original work at this time.

References

Archive of Our Own, a website that hosts transformative fan works.

Cell Phone Novel: A New Genre of Literature
Dhananjoy Roy, Language in India, March 2012.

Getting Paid for Giving Away Art for Free: the Case of Webcomics
Liz Dowthwaite, CREATe (RCUK Centre for Copyright and New Business Models in the Creative Economy), February 25, 2014.

HarperCollins picks up webcomic Nimona
Heidi MacDonald, The Beat, November 7, 2012.

Hiveworks, an online webcomics publisher, manager and storefront.

Image Comics Solicitations for January 2016
Image Comics, October 20, 2015.

Japan and the Internationalization of the Serial Fiction Market
Graham Law and Norimasa Morita, Book History, 2003.

Patreon, a patronage/subscription platform for creators.

Topatoco, an online retailer and comics publisher.

Webcomics: The Influence and Continuation of the Comix Revolution
Sean Fenty, Trena Houp and Laurie Taylor, ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comic Studies, 2004.

Give The People What They Want – Reverse Crowdfunding

While researching alternatives to the “traditional” model of publishing I came across a slew of “how to get your book published” listicles and negative articles about how the book industry is doomed. Refining my queries, I was presented with positive articles all seemingly focused on the wonders of crowdfunding. There was one article by Gartland (n.d.) that stood out from the mass as it presented a new idea: reverse crowdfunding. Although it wasn’t elaborated on in too much detail, this idea deserves more exploring.

But before going into this idea, let’s briefly go over how crowdfunding itself works. Bearmean (n.d) quotes Techopedia, which accurately sums up the concept stating that it’s “… a method of raising capital in small amounts from a large group of people using the Internet and social media”. In the case of crowdfunding a book, a writer presents the idea for the book, maybe supplying a sample chapter, and then relies on the pockets of the Internet to supply the necessary funds. There are a plethora of platforms to choose from, most notably Kickstarter and book specific sites Unbound and Pubslush. Not without it’s challenges, this model can completely avoid the traditional publishing formula in a very 21st century manor.

One of it’s downfalls however is that it relies on the public to 1) take interest in the book, 2) trust the author to actually write the book, and most importantly, 3) the author needs to get enough attention for the campaign. If all of these requirements are met then crowdfunding can be a great choice for an author. Morkes looks at the benefits of this model, stating that crowdfunding:

  1. Lets you activate your audience and catalyze a movement
  2. Validates your book before you write it
  3. Creates eager anticipation
  4. Legitimizes your self-published book

With that explained, let’s look at the model in reverse order. When Gartland proposed the idea, he broke traditional crowdfunding down into three parts: “(1) author has book concept -> (2) author pitches book concept -> (3) readers fund book concept (if they like it)”. Gartland then reversed the model:“(1) readers want book concept -> (2) readers commission book concept -> (3) author writes book (in exchange for the gross commission)”.

Gartland elaborates, proposing the creation of a platform where someone can suggest an idea for a book. They can choose to put some funds down to entice authors, other readers may see the idea and choose to contribute financially, and then authors can be suggested to write the book for commission, where they will either accept or decline. Something similar to this model, but done out of interest rather than economic incentive, is Reddit’s Writing Prompts. Here, a user publishes an idea, and the community writes stories around it, with the most popular being “upvoted” to the top.

This model takes the proverb “give the people what they want” quite literally. If not enough people like the book idea then it will flop before a single word has even been written. Giving the people what they want is something the traditional publishing industry has been criticized for in the past. They publish what they assume will sell (taking a financial risk in that assumption), rather than publishing what they deem to be good literature.

I would argue that the traditional publishing industry has typically been using what Chesbrough (2003) has called “closed innovation”, whereas this new model would be closer to “open innovation”. This business term plays on the idea of using more external sources rather than one’s own research and development. Although the traditional publishing industry has always relied on external authors with whom they work with to create a product that will sell, this new idea follows the concept of open innovation more closely. Chesbrough describes open innovation stating “firms commercialize external (as well as internal) ideas by deploying outside (as well as in-house) pathways to the market” (2003, p.36-37). An example of this could be Hey Lululemon where users can suggest ideas to the brand, which can then be voted on by the community. The company has essentially externalized their research and development by becoming open to ideas from the public. This concept of reverse crowdfunding has been done in a general sense (i.e. not book publishing specific) before, with companies such as Quirky.

Imagining this platform for solely book publishing, one could speculate that both independent writers and publishers could possibly benefit. However, that depends on the way the rights are set up. This divides the concepts into what I will call model A and model B. In model A, once a book is funded, the author writes it, takes the money donated by backers, and the book is released online for free. In model B, the person who came up with the idea, the writer, and possibly the other backers, will be entitled to royalties, and the book will be sold. A writer benefits in both of these models as they are able find a well-funded idea and, with the backers’ approval, be able to write the novel. Depending on their ability to write and how much each book is funded, it could be a very economical. Some may argue that the idea would stifle creativity; however, the act of creating an idea people like could be creative, as well as the writer’s ability to add their own flair to it. A study on open innovation found “empirical evidence that the impact of open innovation is not limited to a particular aspect of innovation performance, but that it positively influences a broad range of innovation performance indicators” (Cheng & Huizingh, 2014, p.1247). This was done in a business setting, but one can assume it would apply to the field of publishing as well. Not every book would be successful, but the writer would get paid and the audience would get the book they wanted (whether they are happy with the results would likely be a case by case basis). In model B, one could argue that publishers too could benefit. Rather than gambling on every book they publish, they will have the base knowledge that there is a community that wants a certain book. They will also not have to front as much of the costs as they would in the traditional model. Although the reward if a book is successful won’t be as high, considering the amount of people with some royalties, but it could save various costs making it a worthwhile endeavor. Model B would also be more of an incentive for backers to help fund a book.

Looking at this open innovation, or reverse crowdsourcing model, from strictly a book publishing perspective, what could be some of the downfalls? The model of open innovation is a starting point, as there have been a number of critiques that we can relate here. Rigby and Zook (2002, p.84-85) have suggested two that can relate to this scenario:

  1. Innovation transfers take time
  2. Managers tend to underestimate the strengths of suitable substitutes.

Although these are proposed as strictly technology and business related, we can adapt them to publishing. The first critique touches on the idea that this model (both A and B) could take a significant amount of time, from coming up with a suggestion to finding backers, to finding a suitable author, to the time is takes to actually write the book. Of course, the last point could build anticipation, but all that leads up to it could act as a deterrent. Next, we will replace managers with authors, suggesting that they would assume their ideas for novels are superior to the suggestions by an audience. From the perspective of what good literature is, this may be true, but perhaps writers may see the benefit of taking an idea from an audience willing to fund it.

Another possible downfall to this idea comes from an online commenter, Maxim Price on Quora (2014), who mentions non-disclosure agreements. Although again, brought up in the context of product and technology ideas, it can be related here. In model B, how would the individual who submits the idea, the writer, possible publishers, and perhaps backers, organize the copyright and who gets how much of the royalties? The complexity of this scenario pushes me to only support model A, where the author receives the money from the backers and the book is released online for free. In this scenario, the publishing industry would have difficulties getting involved, possibly offering their services as graphic designers or editors for a fee.

Although this model has complexities, I believe it has the possibility of being successful. By following an open innovation model, other businesses have had huge success (Chesbrough (2004) gives he examples of “Intel, Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, Cisco, Genentech, Amgen, Genzy”(p.23)). The reverse crowdfunding model essentially eliminates the middleman and turns authors into a for hire position. It would make the audience happy, as they are seeing the books they want written come to fruition, it could ensure profitability for authors for whenever they need money they can go online and see what ideas are out there, but it would likely affect the publishers negatively. Looking at this model it is unlikely to ever become the be-all end-all for book publishing. Many people with great ideas would still likely want to write and publish their own books, whether they choose to attempt the traditional route, the self-published route, or even the standard crowd funding route we have today. However, this model could stand as an option for many aspiring writers and an incentive for authors with previous success to write more novels for a series.

References

Bausells, M. (n.d.). Kickstarting a books revolution: The literary crowdfunding boom. Retrieved November 6, 2015.

Bearman, S. (n.d.). Crowdfunding for Authors: Is it right and is it right for you? Retrieved November 6, 2015.

Galley, B. (2014, September 14). Top Tips on Crowdfunding for Authors. Retrieved November 6, 2015.

Chesbrough, H. W. (2003). The Era of Open Innovation. MIT Sloan Management Review, 44(3), 35-41.

Chesbrough, H. W. (2004) Managing Open Innovation, Research-Technology Management, 47(1), 23-26.

Cheng, C. C. J. and Huizingh, E. K. R. E. (2014), When Is Open Innovation Beneficial? The Role of Strategic Orientation. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 31: 1235–1253. doi: 10.1111/jpim.12148

Crowdfunding. (n.d.). Retrieved November 6, 2015.

Gartland, M. (n.d.). Will Crowdfunding Books Replace Author Advances and Further Empower Readers? Retrieved November 6, 2015.

Morkes, T. (n.d.). The Complete Guide to Crowdfunding Your Book. Retrieved November 6, 2015.

Price, M. (2014, October 6). What’s wrong with the idea of a ‘reverse Kickstarter’? Retrieved November 6, 2015.

Rigby, D., & Zook, C. (2002). Open-Market Innovation. Harvard Business Review, 80(10), 80-89.

© 2018 kcrowe. Unless otherwise noted, all material on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


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