Innovative Book Publishing Models: Hol Art Books

Museum Legs, by Amy Whitaker
Museum Legs, by Amy Whitaker

Team publishing
I’ve written about Hol Art Books once or twice before but I neglected to mention them when they issued their first books and I wanted to address that. Hol Art is based on a remarkably simple to outline and yet difficult to get right system called team publishing. They have a nice guide to how it operates on their website:

Team Publishing
In a departure from traditional publishing, we bring authors and publishing professionals together online to collaboratively identify, evaluate, and develop our titles. The processs is open to everyone.

• You and your team select, edit, design, and promote the book.

• We print, distribute, and market it in our seasonal list of titles.

• And everyone–the author, the team, and Hol–gets paid a percentage of the book’s sales, for as long as it sells.

Hol Art lets you start a project, join a project and general become the life blood of a venture. It is actually fairly genius.

Why this is smart
I’ve discussed before why self-publishing is attractive for both authors at the top of the publishing ladder and at the bottom too. That is because as the costs of the actual physical publishing process (editing, design, printing a book) drop relative to the less tangible (to the author) costs (distribution, marketing, acquiring attention and successfully promoting and selling a book) the role that publisher play that is of use to the author SEEMS to become less valuable. I stress seems because publishers who are wise will look at what they do well and concentrate their resources on doing that.

Many houses now have few if any in house editors and work almost completely with freelancers. This tends to work for both parties, reducing payroll costs for publishers and enabling better balance for those freelancers. Quite a few houses have outsourced design in the same way and few small or medium publisher have ever handled distribution themselves anyway.

What I like about Hol Art Books is that they have taken that kind of thinking and applied it sensibly to their own chosen niche. Art books tend to be more expensive to print so they pay that cost, marketing tends to be more niche focused so recruiting a publicist to each team is very sensible. And, to top it all off, they are totally and scarily open and honest, just read this piece about the money side of affairs if you doubt me!

Hol Art have a nice, new and (I think) viable model. It will be interesting to see if this can be adapted for other niches. I suspect there is room for it. The type of model might sit very well with the discussion from Publishing Perspective last week (MJ Rose & Robert Miller).

Going with the flow
Interestingly too, it goes towards the ideas about how the work force will be reshaped in the coming decades. Ideas I first encountered in Nine Shift but remarkably read today again on the Encyclopedia Britannica Blog.

I still think there are things that Hol Art could add to the model, and maybe they might work better as part of a larger entity (even a museum or university) rather than a solo enterprise, but you have to admire what the founder Greg Albers has created.

Enjoying exploring the work of Molly Crabapple, great stuff!
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 15/09/2009

Just under a month to TOC Frankfurt & the Frankfurt Book Fair. If you twitter, search using the following hash tag and youy’ll see lots of people are talking about it #fbf09. There’ll be a TweetUp (Which I’ll miss, but there you go) at the fair this year and I’d nearly put money on a European publisher acquiring something Twitter related for their list, though I’ll wait and see!

There have been a few interesting stories bouncing around the web the last few days on writing and publishing and where we are at with them. The Bookseller has a feature on how the downturn is affecting Author Pay, David & Charles have made a radical decision to realign themselves along a vertical basis, the result is layoffs in the short term but something else in the medium to longer term. In the same week I stumbled across this fine article about GeoCities and online communities in the American Prospect, lessons we should note and think about as we embrace the idea of verticals. Speaking of Verticals, Filedby.com was chosen by CUP to expand an author promotion platform in which they use some of Filedby’s premium features to help authors develop an online presence.

Digital publishers (and aspirants) everywhere were saddened by the news that Quartet Press has been disbanded after running into a string of problems too insurmountable to continue. The site carries the message, but Mike Shatzkin and Kassia Krozser (in two [1,2] excellent articles) carried on some detailed discussion and analysis. I’m not happy about this outcome for the founders, but I’m sure we will see more from them soon.

And then there was Dan Brown and his latest book the Lost Symbol which is variously being hailed as the ruin of us all (DJ Taylor in the Independent) or something of a saviour (Jeffery A. Trachtenberg in the the Wall Street Journal). Amazon and Waterstones have been selling it at half price for about three months, and don’t they look like genuis’ now that The Book Depository and the Multiples have launched a massive price offensive?

And in sad news, it’s bottoms up to Keith Floyd who died today, the video above shows him at his somewhat slowed down more mellow best. For a decent interview of recent origin, try this Daily Mail article!
Eoin

Crowdsourcing a cookbook: food52

Eoin Purcell

Cooking Light (Explored) by Flickr user Steve Wampler
Cooking Light (Explored) by Flickr user Steve Wampler

This is a nice idea
You now there must be something funky going on when Techcrunch reports on a new crowdsource cookbook initiative. Even if it is from Amanda Hesser (Wikipedia & Twitter) and Merrill Stubbs (Twitter), two pretty well connected folk. The site is called Food52 and right now it’s just a landing page and a sign up*:

The site and the book will appeal to anyone who ever wanted to write their own cookbook but never had the time. But it won’t be a free-for-all. Hesser and Stubbs will make editorial decisions with give-and-take from the site’s members. To guide the community, every week two themes will be presented which will act as a call for recipes. This week’s themes (they are really assignments) are “Your Best Grilled Pork Recipe” and “Your Best Watermelon Recipe.” Anyone can submit their favorite recipes, along with photos or videos. Then Hesser and Stubbs select the most promising ones, test them, and choose the best two for each theme. They present these back to the Food52 members, who get to vote which one will make it into the cookbook.

“There is a huge tradition of community cookbooks, but none of them are user vetted,” says Hesser. Users can take part in creating the cookbook by submitting their own recipes and helping to edit the submissions through comments, ratings, and votes. (Recipes can be flagged if someone tries to pass one off as their own that is actually from another cookbook). Anybody who submits a recipe selected as one of the two finalist recipes each week will get a free copy of the book along with cookware tailored to their recipe.

The iterative process should bring hardcore foodies and fans of the authors coming back every week. By the end of the 52 weeks, Hesser and Stubbs will not only have the recipes for their cookbook, but also a built-in and built-up audience already sold on the book. It won’t be just a cookbook, it will be an artifact of their participation.

But it’s still in beta
I’m not keen on announcements and PR in advance of a website opening to the general populace. When will people stop doing that, wouldn’t a page of text explaining the site be better, especially when there is so much information already out there? Maybe a picture of the authors, a short bio, some links and scary concept but given that it’s a video site, maybe a video? I mean seriously! Still even a google search reveals some more juicy morsels.

Serious Eats (my current favourite foodie site) for instance offers is links to a tour of the kitchen and videos from food52 on vimeo:

But what really caught our eye today is that Hesser and Stubbs seem to have quietly started uploading to a Vimeo account, which is full of what appear to be test videos—along with a couple great nuggets: an introduction to the Food 52 concept, and a video tour of Amanda Hesser’s envy-inducing kitchen—complete with the now-customary refrigerator-baring.

The entire project has a nice sense of buzz about it in the publishing world too, coming as it does with a book published by super-hip Harper Studio.

All told, I see good things coming from this. Having crowdsourced the content for a book published by Mercier last year, Our Grannies’ Recipes, I can guess at the problems they may encounter. Whereas Ourgranniesrecipes.com was very much a no money, seat of the pants endeavour, I like that food52 seems likely to be well funded and have the opportunity to expand the social and user content features that small investments allow.

Best of luck to them, I watch this space with interest.
Eoin

Writing4all.ie

Eoin Purcell

UPDATE: Writing4all.ie have now updated their terms and conditions and I believe that the terms i referenced in this post have been erased. I am happy to say that they have been much more specific in their language. The ownership clause now reads:

You own your User Content, not us. User Content is defined as text, pictures, video, sound and other files legally posted by you on the Site. You grant the Company and its affiliates a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free right to display your User Content (in whole or in part) on the Site or on site affiliates that bear the Writing4all name – Facebook, Twitter. You also grant each user of the Site the right to access, display, view, store and reproduce such your User Content for personal use. You represent and warrant to the Company that you have the right to grant the licenses stated above.

This is a huge improvement!
Eoin

On the face of it, Writing4all.ie seems a nice idea, a place for Irish writers to share, collaborate and build community:

Welcome Guest! You’re viewing these pages as a guest. To be able to add or comment on works please join or login. Writing4all.ie is an online writing community and resource centre for Irish writers. Share your creative writing with others and get instant feedback and constructive criticism.

Our writing resources give you all the latest news on writing courses, writing groups, book launches and workshops in your area. Read the latest news in our blog or discuss books and the world of literature in our lively forums.

Free memberships are available to all and we welcome poetry, fiction, non-fiction and drama. Members can enter our regular poetry, fiction and non-fiction competitions and contests.

Sounds very nice and indeed, if that was it I would be fine with it. But it’s not it. When you read through the site terms and conditions you find this gem (emphasis mine):

You own your User Content, not us. You grant the Company and its affiliates a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and publicly display your User Content (in whole or in part) and/or to incorporate such your User Content in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed.

What this means is that if you upload writing to the site, Original Writing, the owner of Writing4all.ie and a self-publisher company I have discussed here before, can publish that work without any need to pay you a royalty or even consulting you as far as I can tell. Those are some pretty extravagant permissions!

Most other sites will specify these permissions for the extra content you provide but not the creative writing you upload. The basic problem is that the terms makes no allowances for separating the content that you create on the site and the creative work you upload TO the site. If they made this differentiation clearer and excluded the creative content from the terms above I believe the terms would be much fairer. If you doubt that, read the definition of user content:

You are solely responsible for any activity and content (including, without limitation, data, text, information, screen names, graphics, photos, profiles, audio and video clips, and links to third-party content) that is posted under your screen names (collectively, “User Content”).

It is possible of course that this isn’t intentional and that the terms are simply sloppily drafted but there is much to be wary of here. At the very least the terms as set out need revision and extra definition, not a situation you should allow your content to get trapped in.
Eoin

Guest Post: Kate Dempsey of Emerging Writer

I asked Kate Dempsey of Emerging Writer to pen me a guest post, and here it is!

Why I blog
So why do you blog as an emerging writer? There’s a question I’ve been asked from time to time. After two years of blogging, the answers have probably changed a bit.

I have kept a diary of my writing projects, upcoming competitions and results and places open for submissions for a good few years. The competitions and submissions information came from a large number of sources: newsletters, emails, various writing websites, other blogs, radio, TV, word of mouth, and I collated it in one place for my own use. I thought this information would be useful to other writers and a blog seemed the easiest way to share it online.

Why did I choose the name Emerging Writer? I’ve been lucky enough to be accepted on some workshops and win awards in this nebulous category, it was easy to remember and I didn’t want my name directly associated. I was job hunting at the time and I didn’t want prospective employers reading about how many times I’ve had work rejected this month. Also I wanted to have a bit of freedom to be critical of establishments, books, poems and even people without them turning up at my front door wielding a hurley.

Then I did a few posts about my own writing successes and failures and, result, I got some comments. Ah heaven. People cared. I posted about writing and reading events in Ireland and started meeting people who read my blog. People who didn’t know me already. Is this fame? I posted writing tips and common errors.

I post pretty well every day now. I’ve posted on council grants and Haiku courses, Canadian magazines and photos for inspiration, literary agents and writing retreats. I always include a picture illustrating part of all of the post. Sometimes the link is tenuous and more for my own amusement than for my readers. I’m easily amused. And I’ve discovered the joys (and unexplained sudden failures) of submitting for a future dates. I use my blog myself for checking on upcoming deadlines and links to submission details.

But always in the back of my head was the idea that when my book gets finished and my agent gets it published, a blog is a great publicity vehicle for my faithful and mildly interested readers. I’m ever optimistic.

What have I learned?
People read blogs. Blogging is a form of networking, as useful in writing as in any other professions. Comments are good, positive or negative, discussions are healthy. Blogging and reading other blogs can easily eat into my precious writing time. All it takes though is discipline to stop that happening. Turn off the internet and get stuck in.

But first, I’ll just check the blogs I’m following for updates on Google Reader…

Guest Post: An Author’s View of Electronic Publishing

Peadar Ó Guilín agreed to write a post for me on, well it does what it says on the tin. I was inspired to ask him by the contribution he made to the forum on the future of publishing that CBI ran.

Paper Chase
There is a goose that lays golden eggs. Yet, its flesh is so tasty that sooner or later, people who aren’t getting their share of the gold, will say to one another — “why don’t we take that bird to the chopping block and have ourselves a feast?” It’s not their goose and they didn’t spend money feeding it. They have nothing at all to lose.

Good morning, or maybe, good afternoon. Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but newspapers all around the world are going out of business right about now. The Rocky Mountain News has bitten the dust, The Boston Globe is slashing wages and even the world-famous New York Times, the “grey lady” herself, is predicted to phase out its print edition a few short years down the line. Journalists by the score are losing their jobs because they can’t compete with the lower quality, but free information that lives less than a click away. Nor, as Rupert Murdoch is learning, can online revenues make up for eyeballs lost in the real world.

“But books are different,” I hear you say.* “It’s all very well for gentlefolk to read a few headlines off the screen, but War and Peace would burn the eyes right out of their sockets…

A few years ago, you’d have been right about that, but these days the arrival of e-ink devices, such as the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle, mean that electronic reading causes no more eye-strain than paper. Indeed, if your peepers are beginning to age a little, the fact that you can increase the print size at will, might allow you to leave your glasses in their case all the way to Napoleon’s defeat at Moscow.

There are other advantages that make a compelling argument for the imminent rise of ebooks. Here are just a few:

    1) some of these devices can hold thousands of books at once. This is handy if you want to carry around a whole law library, or take 17 novels away with you on holiday
    2) some of them access the internet directly so that the user can buy a book while on the train, or sitting up in bed, or out for a walk
    3) the title you want is never out of print or out of stock
    4) some devices allow you to take notes
    5) all of them will let you upload your own documents from work
    6) school books weigh nothing and never go out of date

If none of the points above represent a compelling reason as to why you would want an ebook reader, then rest assured, there are thousands willing to take your place in the queue. Once they become the majority,** the publishing game will have changed forever and woe betide the writers, publishers, editors and book-sellers who don’t find an online berth for themselves before that day comes.

A Rising Tide of Tosh
We’ve all had the experience of spending our own sweet, sweet money on awful books. Books that we’ve flung at the wall, or abandoned in train stations, or given as gifts to our enemies. But even terrible books have to meet certain standards before they can be published. Somebody loved them enough to purchase the rights. And that same person only did so after a process that weeded out a thousand books that were even worse. Imagine that! Just close your eyes and think about how bad some of those rejected books must be. Try to picture them in a pile next to the one book that was chosen. This is important, because, that column of purest tosh,*** is the future of fiction.

You see, when electronic books take over, printed novels will become a bit of a rarity. I don’t believe they will ever die out completely. There are still specialist shops, for example, where you can buy the tiny number of vinyl records that the music corporations still produce. However, in the same way that most people these days listen to songs on CDs or mp3s, most readers will find their thrills on e-ink devices and a large amount of fiction will only ever appear in that format. After all, cut out the book shops and the printers, distributors, buyers, returns, warehouses etc. etc. and it will be cheaper to produce an ebook than a pbook by orders of magnitude.

Indeed, in many cases, the production of an ebook will cost precisely nothing. After all, anything you write on a word processor is already a document capable of being read on an electronic reader.

Rejectee’s Revenge
Once upon a time, the public would never have come across a writer’s work without the intercession of a publisher. A rejected author might shake his fist at the gods or smash a bit of furniture, but in the end, the manuscript would be retired to the sock drawer for the nourishment of mice and beetles.***

These days, however, the rejectees have another outlet for their frustrations. They can sell the book through their own website or even on Amazon, where it will compete with, and distract from, more professionally produced work. The authors can also give their novels away for free, and a great many do.**** That is, of course, their right and none of my business. But I can’t help thinking about what is happening to journalism right now as it tries, and fails, to compete with free sources of news

The Death of Reading?
This is dangerous territory for everybody involved in publishing, from the authors right on down the line to the person who stacks our books at Easons. It’s not just that we might all lose our jobs. There’s a very real possibility that the hobby known as “reading for pleasure” could become a thing of the past. A reader’s investment of effort in a book, is far greater than the three minutes it takes to sample a pop song. In a world chock-full of free, but pitiful fiction, the average novel will be a waste of time, an insult to the intelligence and an advert for every other form of entertainment out there.

Except…

Except, of course, there’s rarely such a thing as a completely random read. Most of our books come recommended from friends or reviewers we’ve grown to trust, or they’ve been written by a favoured author. We’ll still have such voices to listen to in future: the modern internet is already well-populated with heroic bloggers who sacrifice their own sanity wading through dung so that we don’t have to.

Instead of agents and publishers, we authors might end up submitting our work directly to the famous taste-makers of the day. Indeed, many of our current industry professionals, in particular, editors, might well find that their opinions are still be in high demand.

But what I can’t yet see, is where the money is to come from in this scenario. And I do believe, that the very best fiction, like great journalism, needs to be funded. Professional writers have more time to dedicate to their art; editors add enormous value by taming a manuscript and so on. Yet, in the end, none of us will keep our jobs unless we can find a way to succeed where the newspapers have failed: we must convince the public that our services are worth paying for.

For now, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed. Hope to see you on the other side 🙂

*I have remarkably large ears.
**Which they will when schools start to make use of eReaders.
***This is not to say that all rejected books deserve such a fate, and we are all familiar with stories of spurned genius, but please understand that I’m speaking in generalities here. Also, some novels fail to find a publisher, not because of low quality, but because the potential audience might not be large enough to justify production costs. However, it is also true that the vast majority of what lands on a slush pile is pretty much unreadable.
****But since the ebook market is still so small, the effect is negligible for the moment.

SXSW – Far From The Madding Crowd

Eoin Purcell

Twitter it up
There has been extensive coverage of the New Think For Old Publishers panel at SXSW on 14 March. By most accounts it was a complete and utter disaster for publishers. Here’s a sample of opinion more here, here and here

As per usual Kassia krozer @ Booksquare summed both sides up pretty well in my view:

Let me be clear. Absolutely clear. Not one word spoken in that session, either from the panelists or from the audience, was new or innovative. The panel, well, we’ve all heard job descriptions before. The audience? That was one very long line of people saying the same things we’ve been saying to the publishing industry for ten years. And yet the publishing people treated our comments as if they were items to be added to a list.

It got me thinking?
What do we as publishers actually want to change? Are we, like the frustrated audience members angry at things in the industry that we would see change? In an ideal world where we got to direct digital change what would we like that change to be? Would authors join us in this campaign?

What would publishers do?
I think most publishers would like a simple platform that allowed them to offer their content online and be paid up-front for it. That seems easy doesn’t it. Except our cousins in newspaper land have lost their lunch trying to monetize their content online and almost all of them have surrendered to free service with ads and most of them are failing even with that.

What’s more the book is pretty much the most simple platform there is right now and lots of people like it. So moving away from it seems a little wild for most publishers. On top of that authors don’t seem keen to hang round waiting for the digital world to start rewarding them either. Whenever a book deal presents itself, bloggers and journalists all take them.

Where does that leave us for digital distribution and selling? Well e-commerce is nice, except you get Amazon and its crazy glitches and its harsh terms. On the other hand, ebooks seem to be starting to break through but you still have to deal with Amazon for those too!

Of course you might take the perspective that if we were to drive digital change, we would drive it along a path that gave our books (content) more attention (such tools even exist). If we were to drive change we would use it to sell more books directly to our customers in order to learn about them at the customer level and so tailor our products to their taste and their pocket. If we could drive digital we would build communities about our content and aggregate content from other publishers to help support our own. But then I’m just talking crazy!

Maybe I am talking crazy but
The problem I have with the current penchant for beating publishers up is threefold:

1) Many publishers (not to mention authors) are doing some pretty amazing things. Tor is building a wonderful, engaged and exciting community of readers around SF&F, Osprey have already done so around Military History. Penguin have spent a small fortune on trying new tools for reading and writing fiction. Macmillan and Random and Harper have all embraced blogs and Facebook and twitter and the web in general seeking new audiences, fresh feedback and platforms for their authors.

2) Despite the urge for the new, it doesn’t yet pay for itself and it may never do so. Andrew Keen is right about that if nothing else. Without money, artists will not create and currently the system that rewards both the artistic and the serious (or not serious) non-fiction author is breaking (if not entirely broken) and the chances of fixing it anytime soon are slim. Unless we revert to older methods of financing art and journalism, campaign funding, endowments, patronage and subscription (all being tried in modest enough [and a few large scale] ways) we may lose something pretty valuable.

3) Radicals are not always right. Even if we might accept that in this case it seems like digital is the way forward, that doesn’t mean publishers will survive the shift. Its not unreasonable of them to be reluctant to leap when right now there is a damaged but viable system in place that delivers unspectacular but solid enough revenues and profit figures.

To wrap it up!
Which leads me to my final thought, despite my own leaning towards a digital future, it is still entirely possible that the paper book remains the preeminent (I note not only) form of publication well into the next century and beyond. It currently seems likely to remain the most profitable (not the only profitable form) form of publication too. If you are an exec at a leading paper book publisher, then it’s a big bet right now to put the house on digital. If you get it wrong you’ve cut open the golden egg laying goose to show her insides to the public and have only the guts to show for it, the public were not that impressed and have watched the show for free on youtube. If you get it right you might still loose the golden goose and the people who benefit are your authors.

So to the radicals I say, lay off the publishers, some of them don’t care, but others are actually succeeding in changing the system and many many more are trying to figure out a way to make it happen without going out of business or destroying their companies, a not inconsiderable consideration in the current environment!

Eoin
PS: None of which changes the fact that I want to be able to buy an ebook version of a novel even if it is only just released in the US and I live in Ireland!