When I got into the publishing business about a year and a half ago, it was for several “reasons” (using that word rather loosely):
- Here was a business in flux, with some established publishers so hidebound that they actually charge a higher price for ebooks than paperbacks, and think it’s important to put DRM on their books to prevent copying – apparently they haven’t heard of scanners. Also, the old bookstore model of book distribution is changing to an online sale model that requires a different type of marketing. So, I thought there might be a business opportunity in coming up with a new approach here. This has evolved into ‘team publishing’ which you can read more about on this site. Okay, some people think it’s a good idea, and others think it demonstrates my rather limited understanding of the word “business”. Both views, I think, have some merit.
- Several studies seem to show that having books for free reading online actually helps sales. I was particularly taken by the writings of sci-fi author Eric Flint who pioneered this approach. My first idea was, well, so why not put lots of in-copyright books for free reading online, and once word about this got around, people would hear about them and buy them. This demonstrates my rather flawed sense of timing – that worked for Eric Flint seven or eight years ago, but today, while free online reading does tend to help sales a little bit, it really has a very small effect, unless you’re somebody like Neil Gaiman, who is so well known that he gets lots of people to read his stuff free online (when his publisher deigns to make it available) and that does sell lots of books. Unfortunately, I am not Gaiman’s publisher, since he needs someone who actually knows a bit more than I about the business.
- What with all the other businesses built on free stuff, from blogs to Youtube, I thought, why not books? Okay, maybe Google had the idea first, but, their reward for putting all that money and time into making books more widely available seems to be mainly a big shiner from getting beat up on by competitors, hand-wringing academics and many writers who seem to just hate the idea of people having more access to their books. So I thought, maybe there’s room for a new startup here, that is serious about a new model for creating and marketing quality, in-copyright books. Technology makes it possible to easily make books available on the web, and to streamline the publication process, reducing overhead and directing more revenue to authors. We’d just need lots of good books on the website and lots of good creative people to write and market books that people would be interested in reading and buying. Before you laugh, be aware, there’s actually a website with free books in China called readnovel.com that claims a community of about 20 million. Okay, it’s China, but other than that, the website isn’t that much different than ours, only much, much bigger. You might explain this by saying that, due to the great firewall of China, people don’t have anything better to do than read books in web browsers, but I personally think that it demonstrates the enormous untapped potential for reading online, and new approaches to the book business.
- Reason 4: it was 2009. A new decade was upon us. The world was really getting pretty crazy, a “democracy” where 10 hedge fund managers are paid more than 400,000 teachers, where “freedom of speech” means no restrictions on spending money for politics while public employees can lose their jobs for speaking out about government abuse, and the political rights of malicious jerks entitle them to disrupt the funerals of soldiers who gave their lives for their country while George Orwell’s descendants have the right to stop people from reading 1984 on the Kindle without raising any issues of political freedom. Okay, I rant. Against this backdrop, publishing, the business of taking good books that someone had written, putting them into print, and marketing and selling them, seemed to promise an island of sanity in a sea of madness, and possibly even a way to make some money by doing some good. And besides, what better business than books, those icons of our intellectual life and anchors of our civilization, those founts of inspiration and knowledge, those delightful diversions and fabulous fictions?
If you are not yet convinced of my poor judgment, lack of business understanding, and rather incomprehensible writing style, then I invite you to read upcoming posts, wherein I will share my views of the publishing world and other choice subjects. (Luckily for me, most web business gurus tell us to make mistakes quickly, so I’m in my element here.) Oh, and one other caveat, I can be excessively literal, which I suppose is my one trait that might be said to qualify me to be a publisher. So, since I started this business, when I’m annoyed with someone, I no longer say, “You’re driving me crazy.” I now say, “You’re driving me crazier.”
– Kenneth Shear, Publisher, Booktrope Editions