Would you pay for something that hasn’t even been written yet? I would, definitely, especially if it was being written by an author I knew and liked. And possibly even if I had never heard of the author before. Because when we buy books by an author that’s new to us (and we all should, right?), we are taking a leap of faith based on the title (such as my purchase in an airport book shop of “One of our Thursdays is Missing” by Jasper Fforde, I mean, how could I resist?) or the cover or the blurb on the back. True, the pull of any of those elements is based on something tangible or visible, possibly even something that you’re holding in your hand. And, if you’re like me, you probably do peek inside the book, either by opening it and reading the first page, or using Amazon’s nifty “Look Inside” feature. And if the first sentence grabs you, and you like the tone, the balance of encouraging factors swings in favour of you reaching for your wallet.
But paying up front for a writer you’ve never heard of, for work that you can’t yet flip through, and waiting months for delivery? That requires a much bigger leap of faith than we’re used to. Especially when we are spoiled for choice in the traditional or online bookshops.
However, it seems to be working. As with music crowdfunding, literary crowdfunding offers both new and experienced writers the tantalizing possibility of independence, support and feedback. Both are given the chance to finance their creation, without having to run on the cost-heavy treadmill of the publishing machine. Several specialized crowdfunding platforms already exist, and more are on the way, that allow writers to present their idea, and to ask us to help the project get off the ground.
- A copy of the ebook
- A copy of the print book
- A signed copy of the print book
- A t-shirt
- Several copies of the print book
- Dinner with the author
- A photograph session with the author
- A story written just for you
- A writing class
- A speaking engagement
- A case of wine…
With the funds and pre-sales guaranteed, the author can then self-publish, or try to find an established publisher (who is likely to be more interested given the book’s documented demand and probable success, than with an untested new author). Unbound offers, in addition to the crowdfunding, a publishing service, with 50% of the book’s profits going to the author (vs. 10-30% in traditional publishing houses). And, of course, both Kickstarter and Indiegogo have substantial book sections. In Spain, we have Verkami, Pentian, and Libros.com, which in a forward-looking twist focusses on the number of backers rather than the funds raised. This approach emphasises the community an author can generate, and his or her future economic potential, rather than the money he or she can get for a specific book.
Are these new businesses going to replace the traditional publishing houses? No, not completely, and definitely not yet. We still enjoy our bestsellers and our beach reads, and the big name authors will not eagerly let go of their cushy contracts. But freedom and a higher share of the profits do have a strong pull, and more and more of them will be tempted, which will in turn bring even more traffic to these webs and apps. Crowdfunding isn’t for everyone, but more and more of us are realising just how much fun it can be.
One of the big selling points of crowdfunding as a concept is that it market tests products before their production, even if those products are cultural. For a book, movie or album to get produced, enough people have to like it to fund its costs. If the idea is not that popular, it doesn’t get off the ground. Market rules. But is that fair when it comes to creativity and cultural ideas? Is that what we want for our creative world, that only stuff that people want gets produced? Where would the innovation and the novelty and the cutting-edge infamy come from?
That kind of question underestimates our adventuresome spirit, and our willingness to try new things. Not everyone likes novelty at first. But enough of us do to make this form of financing efficient and easy. Furthermore, the nature of this form of production makes innovation almost inevitable. Crowdfunding platforms attract early adopters. They are becoming more and more popular, but they are not yet “mainstream”. The kind of people who fund projects on the crowdfunding platforms are, by nature and in general, open-minded, innovative individuals, and I think that we can be trusted to keep innovation alive through our pledges. That’s one of the reasons we love crowdfunding, we get to actively participate in and support new ideas.
Participating in crowdfunded books transforms us from passive consumers of print, to micro-patrons. And that’s a very good feeling. The act of participating, trusting, contributing creates an emotional connection with the project and its creators. Their triumph is your triumph, and to hold in your hand a book that you helped make possible generates something akin to pride.
The authors don’t have the big advances and the glamorous tours that the publishing houses used to provide. But they do have greater independence and creative freedom, and they get to keep more of the proceeds. The increasing number of crowdfunding platforms specializing in books, and the evident popularity of book ideas on the general platforms, is a refreshing response to the precarious state of the industry. Just as shrinking royalty payments and signing fees to musicians encouraged the development of music crowdfunding platforms, so the dwindling book advances from the publishing houses has incentivized the launch of book crowdfunding solutions. The market giveth what the market taketh away. Ok, not quite, but you have concede the beauty of the creative solutions that we come up with to save that which we love. We need writers. Writers need us. And the Internet connects us all in a mutually supportive relationship, in which we end up with a stronger, freer and even more creative industry model than the one it replaces.
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