MonthOctober 2016

Crowdfunding – A Way to Involve Readers in the Publishing Process

Crowdfunding books is an opportunity for authors, both new and well-known, to share their new ideas with the general public. Authors can find out if their book idea would sell just by using online crowdfunding websites. Although publishers still play a role in the creative process, the decision of whether or not the book will be published is based on consumer’s choices. Crowdfunding a book does not always mean asking for the entire costs for it. Some people only require a certain amount that they cannot afford, for example, money to pay for an artist to design their cover art (Bausells, 2015). Platforms such as Kickstarter and Unbound are one of many sites that help crowdfund projects and “gives publishers the capacity to involve fans directly, and skip all the layers between the creator and the reader” (Bausells, 2015).

The connection between authors and readers are bridged because they are part of the creative process. Crowdfunding is a way for authors to connect with their fans and ask for help in making their book a reality. Generating sales is not the first priority of this process but finding support is. This support is as much about helping the author as it is about supporting an idea for a book. Most, if not all, crowdfunded books are either partially written or not written at all. Some authors start their crowdfunding to see whether or not their idea is compelling to readers before they spend time on writing it. An example of crowdfunding being successful is a book called “Content Warfare” by Ryan Hanley which was crowdfunded on Publishizer.com (Morkes, 2016). He had an interesting idea but was unsure of whether or not it would sell. So he started crowdfunding and within 30 days of his campaign he reached $10, 000 for his unwritten book (Morkes, 2016). This displays a possible market for crowdfunded books. It creates a fanbase for an author’s book that includes both supporters and fans who are eagerly waiting for the completion of the book.

There are two different methods of crowdfunding, “platforms that help you connect with your audience or full-service book publishers that use crowdfunding to decide what to publish” (Kaye, 2015). Fundraising Platforms such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Publishizer allow authors the freedom to choose their own editors, designers, printers, marketers, etcetera. Authors only have to give a small portion of the money raised to the platform they chose to use; percentage of the said small portion is dependant on the platform as well and whether or not the crowdfunding was successful. The second method involves book publishers that use crowdfunding sources. The book publishers would take care of finding editors, designers, marketers, and distributors for the author; the publishers would only profit if the crowdfunding was a success (Kaye, 2015). These crowdfunding publishers include Inkshares and Unbound. Crowdfunding is an opportunity for open collaboration with the possibility of making a profit throughout the process, “it can be democratic, open, and financially lucrative for authors while also inviting the participation of a broad community of booksellers, publishing professionals, and readers” (Kaye, 2015).

To provide an example of how a fundraising platform works, here is Publishizer. There are three simple steps for the author: write a book proposal, validate readership, and choose a publisher. For the first step, the author needs to write something like a business plan for their book. The second step for authors is to generate support for their idea. The specific goal for the author is to have 500 pre-orders for their book within 30 days. If this goal is reached Publishizer will query interested publishers for the author. The third step involves the author contacting the list of interested publishers that Publishizer has collected and request publishing offers (Publishizer, 2016). When readers browse different books on Publishizer, they see a list of different books, each with their own cover art as well as information regarding how that particular book is doing. Readers would see the monetary amount raised, the number of pre-orders that author has, the number of days left in the campaign out of the 30 day limit that is given to the author, as well as the number of publishers that have shown an interest in their book idea.

An example of a website that helps full-service book publishers to use crowdfunding to decide what to publish, here is Unbound. Similar to Publishizer, Unbound has a number of stages to its crowdfunding process. Authors are required to go through five steps: pitching an idea, the contract, crowdfunding, production, and the completion of the project. The first step for authors is to pitch their book idea to the Commissioning Editors; where they will decide if the idea is worth supporting. The second step involves signing a contract; the author maintains their intellectual rights, Unbound gets the licence to produce and publish the author’s work, and profits are split 50/50 (Unbound, 2015). The third step is to write the book; this is more of the waiting period for authors, while they write their book, pre-orders are sold by Unbound. The fourth step is production; Unbound has a team of professionals who include writers, designers, editors, publishers, and product managers who will take care of the whole production process (Unbound, 2015). The final step is the completion of the project. Not only do supporters of the book receive a physical copy, the book is also sold into popular stores by Penguin Random House (Unbound, 2015). While browsing the various book ideas, readers can immediately see the percentage funded. On Unbound however, the cover art is not created and may prove difficult in catching readers’ attention. Many people judge a book by its cover, in this case, select a book by its cover. Unlike Publishizer, Unbound does not put a time limit for the authors. Once the book reaches the funding target, the publishing process begins.

Both fundraising platforms, Publishizer and Unbound, provide readers with a video trailer of the author and the book idea, a synopsis of the book, a small biography of the author, and different monetary ways readers could support their favourite idea. Readers have the freedom to choose the denomination they want to contribute to a partially written book. Authors have the responsibility to only provide rewards that they can fulfill once the process has ended. Lower monetary donations are awarded with perks such as their names printed on the back, a physical copy of the book, and an ebook. Some more expensive options include $50 for a copy of the book with a limited edition cover art, $310 for a personal dedication from the author, and $1000 for 50 signed copies of the book, shirts, posters, and coffee mugs. This is all dependant on the author and the crowdfunding platform they choose to use.

Although there are many pros to crowdfunding, one of them being that the success of their book is largely based upon consumer interests, authors are still facing the difficulty of having publishers decide whether or not their idea is worth supporting. Publishizer requires publishers to be interested in the author’s idea and Unbound requires the idea to be accepted by their Commissioning Editors before moving forward. Authors are putting their faith in readers themselves; to give their idea a chance. Another factor that needs to be considered with the idea of crowdfunding a book is that the book is not complete. This means that the little preview of the book that people have read may be the best part of the book. Similar to watching a movie trailer, thinking that it would be an amazing movie, deciding to pay to see it in theatres, and then coming out disappointed because the best of the movie was the trailer itself. Crowdfunding is not something like Netflix where the audience has the ability to exit out of their choice and select another movie to watch. It can prove to be difficult to find supporters if people can walk into a bookstore, pick up a book, and if they like what they are reading so far, they purchase it. Crowdfunding a book, or crowdfunding anything, requires people to put a lot of faith in the creator of the project, as well as a monetary donation. Depending on the amount that people donate, it may not be an issue if the supporter receives a poorly written book for a $5 donation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if someone pays $1000 for the book to be published, they are probably expecting an amazing book as a result.

“The idea of funding books by subscriptions is actually something that was very popular in the 18th century” (Kaye, 2015) and has made its way back into the industry. It is an increasingly popular way for authors to not only spread their ideas across the globe but to involve their potential readers in the publishing process as well. The method of crowdfunding books seems to be a growing industry and although it has its pros and cons, much like everything else, it would be interesting to see whether or not it it takes over as the main method of book publishing.

 

References

Bausells, Marta. (2015, June 5). Kickstarting a books revolution: the literary crowdfunding boom. Retrieved from: The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/05/the-literary-crowdfunding-boom

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

Morkes, Tom. (2016). The Complete Guide to Crowdfunding Your Book. Retrieved from: Tom Morkes                                                                                             http://tommorkes.com/the-complete-guide-to-crowdfunding-your-book/

Now, there is a better way to get published. (2016). Publishizer, Inc. Retrieved from: https://publishizer.com/about/authors/

How It Works. (2015). Unbound. Retrieved from https://unbound.com/about

Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy

Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy is a book by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association and Visiting Research Professor of English at New York University, published by NYU Press on November 1, 2011. Authorship is one of the chapter’s from this book. In this chapter, Fiztpatrick talks about changing the traditional authorship methods of writing scholarly articles. She thinks that we need to approach authorship from a different perspective in the digital age—the key lying in interaction. She critics the individualistic and solitary approach to writing a paper as an elitist and limited way of approaching a particular topic. She accepts that the traditional method holds more originality and authorship to the article but on the other hand she feels that academic articles must be more accessible to everyone by making them more collaborative and interactive by enabling readers to comment and develop their own ideas which the author could implement in their writings.

Thus, Fitzpatrick defines in her chapter the significant changes that should happen with academic authorship – from a final product to a process of constant interactive changes, from an individual effort to a collective achievement, from an original idea to a remix of several different perceptions, and from intellectual property to the gift economy. Essentially what she is talking about is a shift from the accepted traditional method of authorship to a one that involves a community of interested readers to generate different ideas and formulate an article with more minds than one. She identifies that the word processing as a highly interactive technology that enables interested readers to revise and comment back almost instantly. She argues that by releasing the text to the readers and making them available to comment upon, authors can immerse into several different ideas that he/she may not have thought about. Essentially her model of writing would make online authorship an ongoing, process-oriented work which would increase the amount of time that they must invest in their writing. Fitzpatrick believe that allowing readers to comment on early versions helps improve later drafts.

Fitzpatrick acknowledges that online writing, and particularly the use of platforms that enable reader comments, will require authors to develop a different relationship to their work and completely rethink their perception of writing. They would have to return to their website to read constructive comments and make changes accordingly. She suggests that scholars use a Creative Commons license for scholarly work to facilitate the use and reuse of material for the collective benefit of the community. She thinks that the writers must be committed to supporting online discussions without dominating them, encouraging to share the most radical to the most constructive comments. She suggests that giving our work away “in a manner that acknowledges that its primary purpose is to be reused and repurposed, we have the potential to contribute to the creation of both better tools and a stronger sense of the scholarly public” (83).

She also discusses the academic anxiety about writing and thinks that network technologies might help us feel less alone and less lost in the writing process. Writing and publishing in networked environments might require a fundamental change not just in the tools with which we work, or in the ways that we interact with our tools, but in our senses of our selves as we do that work, and in the institutional understandings of the relationships between scholars and their now apparently independent silos of production. She argues that thinking about authorship from a different perspective could result in a more productive, and less anxious, relationship to our work. The interaction, participation, and conversation that occur during scholarly creation helps the academy communicate with the broader public. She says “We need to think less about completed products and more about texts-in-process; less about individual authorship and more about collaboration; less about originality and more about remix; less about ownership and more about sharing.” (p. 83)

I thought her proposed method of authorship is quite idealistic as it would be very difficult to moderate user comments and also verify the legitimacy of the article. Will students be able to use an interactive scholarly article for research purposes? How do we know if all the information or data on the article are accurate? Then there’s also the question of being too open and who’d benefit from the published article? The original author? Then what about the readers who have actively commented on the process of writing the article. What would be the incentive of the writer other than betterment of the community? Surely if there are no economic incentives to writing there would less and less people interested to invest their time and effort into it.

Works Cited

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. 2009. Two: Authorship. In Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. Media Commons Press.

Lisa Nakamura: “Words with Friends”: Socially Networked Reading on Goodreads

The ways in which we receive information and interact with our environment and others have dramatically changed; the book is at the forefront of this change, with technology being its catalyst. When we consider what the role of the book in society is today, this question is certainly complex and multifaceted. By comparing the traditional print forms such as books and newspapers with the digital platforms of social media applications, it is evident that these different publications overlap in nature. In the article “Words with Friends”: Socially Networked Reading on Goodreads, Lisa Nakamura offers an insightful critique on how our relationships within our social networks have been modified by technological disruption and intervention. Specifically, she focuses on how digital media has new created new social valences of reading, emphasizing how websites such as Goodreads offers all the conventions of social networking which allows reading to become a more social and creative process.

Nakamura begins by highlighting how digital media has allowed texts to become more lively because writers and readers can interact with each other and create intimate social relationships. She suggests that instead of focusing on the book’s new forms and the devices themselves, we should shift the conversation to understand how that use of digital reading devices have added value to the act of reading and the surrounding discourse. I appreciate the author challenging the notion of false divisions between old and new media, which we also touched upon last week in the reading Mediation and the Vitality of Media. In the era of movable type and handwritten manuscripts, public engagement was low and rare. With the emergence of the public sphere, we have experienced a vast shift in society from a print literate to digitally literate culture. However, it is important that we acknowledge that it is not the tools themselves that have singlehandedly created this shift in our media landscape, but understand that is it our shift in behaviour and how we interact with these tools that have transformed our readership and authorship. The focus should not be on the apparatus itself, but instead its functions, what it has to offer, and how it benefits our user experience.

Goodreads, the largest social network site for readers, is regarded by Nakamura as an “exemplary Web 2.0 business” as it offers all the conventions of social networking, inviting participants to comment, buy, blog, rank, and reply through a range of devices, networks, and services. Of course, Web 2.0 is reflective of how we are all now creators and shapers of content and experience, which brings us back to the author’s emphasis on how books have always been a means of social networking and should be viewed as being commodified and digital. While different mediums offer very distinct reader experiences, when we begin to unpack the idea of a book, it is not bound by any one form but as its role in society, which is a source of communication. Regardless of the medium, both print and digital technologies offer a social experience.

What I found the most intriguing about this article is Nakamura’s critique on how Goodreads creates an “egocentric network of public reading performance” which emphasizes the “pleasures of readerly sociality… [and] foregrounds reading as a spectacle of collecting.” The author explains how the website’s main purpose is to provide users with familiar tools that encourage them to perform their identities as readers in a public and networked forum. She supports this argument by highlighting how Goodreads shelves remediate earlier reading cultures where books were displayed in the home as signs of taste and status. As a website that is structured around public consumption that produces and publicizes a reading self, does it then become just another extension of our digital identity? I would tend to side with Nakamura as she continually drives the point of our identities as readers as being a “spectacle” and a “performance.” As we communicate through these social media applications, we become more aware of ourselves relative to the rest of the online community that we engage with. These tools contribute to our reputation management and community participation and become another way for us to negotiate our sense of self within the public sphere.

She further argues that by availing ourselves to display our readership, “we are both collecting and being collected under a new regime of controlled consumership”. Goodreads shows us how social networking about books has become a commodity and how user content has been placed in the service of commerce. I found Nakamura’s argument to be a deeply interesting link to our identities as consumers, where she highlights how we “pay with our attention and our readerly capital, our LOLs, rankings, conversations, and insights into narrative, character, and literary tradition.” Not only has digitization transformed the way we access and consume information and how we experience books, it has also transformed the way we understand our consumership and what we value and privilege. There is a constant battle for our attention in an increasingly cluttered and competitive media landscape, and we “pay” through means of social capital.

Within digital publishing, we have experienced significant developments in defining the roles of author, publisher, and reader. More than ever before, it is crucial for users to learn how to be able to mediate between these various roles with ease. Authors are able to have the flexibility and freedom to create and share their content, while also having the opportunity to play an active role in being able to build and engage with their publics and audiences. As the patterns of the digital network are exploratory and unpredictable, the pace of our creation and participation have also subsequently accelerated, which bears a whole new level of potentiality for sharing ideas and collaboration. As we examine the features of this new environment and consider both the benefits and implications, we are then able to gain a better understanding of how much the web is becoming integral to how we understand and co-exist with both our digital selfhood and the world around us.

Works Cited

Nakamura, Lisa. 2013. “Words with Friends”: Socially Networked Reading on Goodreads. PMLA 128 (1). 238-243.

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