Startup idea: Turnkey self-publishing service for authors

December 26, 2011 · 2 min read

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 (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.

These days I do most of my writing at The Roots of Progress. If you liked this essay, check out my other work there.


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