Another way to publish

Dan Hind
23 March 2012

On Tuesday of this week, I published an e-pamphlet for Kindle, called Common Sense. Nothing terribly noteworthy about that.

People self-publish all the time. 

This is the cover, by the way. The design is by Kieran McCann.

I mean, Common Sense is noteworthy, of course. At least, I think it is, otherwise I wouldn’t have spent months writing the damn thing. If you are interested in finding out a little more about why I wrote it, and what it says, there’s an interview with Guy Aitchison here on the New Left Project’s website. You can also read it over at openDemocracy.

Old Models and New

But now I want to talk about the medium rather than the message.

Normally, a publisher will secure exclusive rights to a work and then promote it through publicity and marketing.

But in this instance, three separate editions were published on the same day by three different organizations: Myriad Editions, New Left Project and openDemocracy.

(The keen-eyed among you will notice that these covers are different sizes. That’s because I don’t know what I am doing. You’ll also notice that the Myriad Editions one is much, much larger. That’s because I do.)

The Advantages of Coalitional Publishing

The text of each edition is identical. Each partner publisher is responsible for their cover design, and for the copy they use for their page on Amazon, for press releases, and so on. Each edition has its own product number and all revenues flow directly to the publisher of the particular edition. The revenues from sales are then split between the author and the publisher on an agreed split.

Each edition is promoted actively by the publisher responsible for it, who has a direct interest in generating revenues. And each publisher benefits from the activities of other publishers – as people become aware of a title and decide they want to buy it, they will gravitate towards the edition that benefits the organization they identify with most closely.

People who are regular readers of openDemocracy won’t decide to buy something just because openDemocracy have published it. But if they decide to buy something, they will be more likely to buy it from openDemocracy than from a fly-by-night operation like Myriad Editions (that’s me, by the way. ME. Clever, eh?).

The economics of publishing online make this possible, just about. Amazon take 30% of the sale price, leaving 70% to split between the writer, originating publisher, and co-publishers. An organization publishing something at £2.50 can afford to give the author as much money as she or he would get from a printed paperback.

Now this model may not be appropriate across all genres. But it offers some striking advantages for current affairs and long form journalism. Everyone who engages with an audience and wants to raise some revenue can publish a no-frills edition of a text that they think is noteworthy – they may not agree with it, at all. But if they think it is worth engaging with they can register an edition.

They can have a discussion about it, a debate with the author, or post a response or review. If a title becomes widely known and read, then the participants at that site can buy what they want anyway and give some support to a site that they value. Virtue doesn’t cost anything – every edition has the same price.

It is a truism to say that the lines between writing, editing, agenting, publishing and selling are all blurring. This model recognizes the division of labour in publishing and seeks to ensure that each part of the process is kept viable:

1. Someone has to write the text. The author. In this case me.

2. Someone has to edit and proofread it. The originating publisher. In this case ME.

(A lot goes on at this stage, by the way. Editors inspire authors, they help them focus, they tell them to pull themselves together, and so on. And stage 2 often happens before stage 1.)

3. Someone has to make potential readers aware of it. The partner publisher. In this case ME, NLP and oD so far.

4. Someone has to collect the money. In this case Amazon.

This model helps people find out about things that are relevant to them, and it gives some money to those who are publishing to particular audiences already. It doesn’t rely on mass media coverage, with all that that implies, though it doesn’t rule it out. It allows a coalition of groups to publish in a way that is economically viable.

So far there are three editions of Common Sense out there. More can be licensed, on different digital platforms as well as on Kindle. It can be published in printed form, too, on an exclusive or non-exclusive basis. The more versions there are, the better each version will do.

Each edition acts as an endorsement of the book – someone is willing to be associated with it in a way that goes beyond a retailer’s willingness to put it in store. Each edition adds to the sense that something is noteworthy (that word again), and so on.

Common Sense is a worked example of how I think at least some online publishing could go. I couldn’t ask anyone else to take the time and effort to write something for what is an experiment in a young and uncertain market. I wanted to write Common Sense anyway, and I wanted to see what would happen if I worked with as many people as possible to raise awareness of the text and the ideas in it.

It’s an updating of Tom Paine’s Common Sense, by the way, and a response to the occupations and assemblies movement last year. It’s doing quite well.

Next Steps

If you run an online news and comment site, or you’re a publisher of some other kind and might be interested in licensing an edition of the pamphlet, then you probably need to look at a copy first.

You don’t have to buy one, of course. I can send you a .pdf to read. But it is £2.54.

(As you will know by now you have a choice of at least three editions – this one by Myriad Editions, this one by New Left Project, and this one by openDemocracy.)

You can reach me via the email address on the blog or via Twitter.

If you write about the media sector, drop me a line as above, if you want to find out more.

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