By Mike Southon, FT Columnist
I am often asked when my next book is coming out, and it surprises people to hear that despite selling nearly 100,000 over the last ten years I have become completely disillusioned with the whole process.
The royalties you receive as a published author are tiny, despite your having to originate the content and do all the promotion yourself. After the runaway success of our first book, my co-author and I switched publishers, but the situation did not improve.
Then, I self-published a series of my Financial Times columns which did not set the world on fire, so I concluded I had produced a book that not many people actually wanted to buy.
Finally, we came up with what we considered an unbeatable concept, a book based on The Beatles and entreneurship, based on my highly successful speaking events. Every publisher rejected it.
This is not to say that publishers are bad people. They are typically overworked and underpaid, forever sandwiched between irate calls from authors demanding more support for their books, and from bookstores demanding lower prices so they can compete with Tesco and Amazon.
My conclusion was that publishing a book, while good for one's ego, was a miserable business. This is despite people's interest in books never being higher, with over 80,000 book groups in the UK.
This is also the view of John Mitchinson, who has been involved in every aspect of publishing. In the 1980s he was marketing director at Waterstone's, then later ran publishers Harvill and Cassell & Co, responsible for blockbusters such as The Beatles Anthology and Michael Palin's travel books, as well as more obscure titles, including a guide on knitting with dog hair.
Today he is a co-founder of QI, famous for its TV programme, now preparing for its tenth series, and its books, which have sold over two million copies in 29 different languages.
Mitchinson decided he was fed up with being miserable, and decided he could have more fun by radically changing the way books are sourced and funded. The result is a new company Unbound, which he formed with Justin Pollard, a fellow QI researcher and historian, and Dan Kieran, deputy editor of The Idler magazine.
Unbound uses the 'crowd sourcing' model to commission books. If you feel you have an original idea, you post it online to see if you can attract any interest. Various levels of reader pledges are available, from £10 for the e-book to £250 for lunch with the author. Once the target is reached, the book is commissioned, and the author receives a 50%, rather than a 5 or 10% royalty.
Unbound has attracted well-known authors such as Python Terry Jones as well as Keith Kahn-Harris' book on big fishes in small ponds, The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg, which is being funded a chapter at a time.
This model solves the endemic problems in publishing, including authors writing books nobody actually want and publishers unable to spot original talent. Our own book The Beermat Entrepreneur was dismissed as 'unpublishable' one morning, but we secured a deal later that same day from another publisher who declared it 'brilliant'.
Mitchinson's sense of fun and radically new business model has re-ignited my enthusiasm for publishing. We are now approaching the publishing of our next book in an entrepreneurial style, refining the value proposition and carefully testing the market, rather than just producing a manuscript and hoping for the best.
This time, our fate is in our own hands, and from day one we will be speaking directly to the people that really matter, our customers.
Unbound can be found at www.unbound.co.uk
Originally published in The Financial Times: www.ft.com Copyright ©Mike[/i] Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon- Co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur & Business Speaker- www.mikesouthon.com
Mike is one of the world’s top business speakers, a Fellow of The Professional Speakers Association. Mike is a Visiting Fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London South Bank University. He has made frequent appearances on television and radio, has a monthly sales column in Real Business magazine and is a regular commentator in the Financial Times.
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