Startup idea: Turnkey self-publishing service for authors

Scott Berkun recently commented on his experience self-publishing his latest book:

What was awesome about the process? Control. The cover, title and content for any published book involves rounds of discussions between the author and the publisher…. If you self-publish, you, the author, are in control….

What sucked about the process? Control :) If you have control over everything, you have to take care of everything. Every single task must be done by you, or you must hire someone to do it….

What was a pain in the neck? Some of these services are not designed for consumers, so their websites suck and take time to learn. The worst offenders are Lightningsource and Bowker.com (the service used to buy ISBN numbers). Once learned, most processes are easy….

Scott had to hire a designer and an editor himself. He set up his own account with a print-on-demand service and bought his own IBSN number. He used Kickstarter himself to take pre-orders.

Startup idea: Create a service that does all of this on behalf of the author, putting together all the pieces to let them self-publish. Create the service that any author who has been through Scott’s experience wishes existed.

In a way it’s like a traditional publisher, only it’s completely fee-for-service. There’s a flat, up-front fee to the author, who then keeps all the profits from the book itself.

In the pre-digital world, publishing a book required a huge capital investment in the form of the printing press. Because of this, each book was essentially a joint venture between author and publisher. Both parties made an investment: the author put in months or years of his time to write the book, and the publisher put in the capital to print and market it. Then, both parties received a share of the profits.

But now that the capital requirements have radically changed, this business relationship no longer makes sense. Many authors can now afford the entire cost of publishing. They have no need for an investment from the publisher, and so they have no need to give up an ownership stake in the outcome. As with startups, this means the author can keep not only the profits, but also control.

However, as Scott’s story illustrates, there’s still a need for all the other services that a publisher provides, such as design, editing, administrative tasks, and overall project management. That’s what this would provide.

Phase 2 of this idea: Create ways for each author to raise exactly the amount of money he needs, if he can’t fund the project out of his own savings. Maybe that’s only a few thousand dollars for publishing and marketing costs. Maybe it’s a few tens of thousands to spend 6 months finishing the book. Lessons from Kickstarter, Y Combinator, and AngelList could apply here.

9 Comments

  1. Sunil Garg says:

    Aside from the fund-raising component that he used Kickstarter for, isn’t this exactly what CreateSpace offers?

  2. I can vouch for the quality of CreateSpace, an Amazon affiliate that can work closely with Amazon (which is a relief). I was very pleased with all the editing, proofreading, page design, and printing support they gave me. The only problem I had was with cover design. Even though I had already paid for a complete, premium package, including cover design, I went to a friend who is a graphic designer. Together we worked out the simple, bold (internet display friendly) design that now appears on _The Power and the Glory_. 

    http://www.reasonversusmysticism.com/

    The suggested rough designs I received from CS were not as good. However, I am confident that I could have worked out a satisfactory solution with them, with a few rounds of discussion and thumbnails of the cover.

    Regardless of the path chosen, through CS or not, any author needs to accept the fact that the publication process is long and very detailed. For a full-length, scholarly book, expect one to one and half years from the completed manuscript to a printed copy for sale.

  3. Here is my summary of why the publishing process takes so long: 

    http://www.drmcdougall.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=228481#p228481

    Shorter, simpler books take less time. The point is that the pubiishing process, as tedious as it may seem to some, _benefits_ the author by challenging him with contrary opinions (from editors, about his writing) and designers (about the “look” of the book).

  4. Leonard Fernandes says:

    Jason, I think there are many who provide this kind of service including us at http://www.cinnamonteal.in. Now phase 2 is a good idea. Something like http://unbound.co.uk/ perhaps?

  5. Our team at http://www.Publification.com is working on an innovative solution to your needs. If you would like to be a beta tester – let us know (yrjo @ publification.com) and we will give you an invite and personalized support service

  6. Steven says:

    We have helped thousands of authors publish their own books for over 20 years.  Bookpublishing.com Ask for Steve!

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