Crowdsourcing – new model for book publishers?
The business model for book publishers has always been one based on some pretty infirm foundations. Ever-reliant on the trade for volume and now paying the price for that reliance, the future for books looks difficult. Enter a new model aimed at putting publishing back in contact with its readers: crowdsourcing.
In crowdsourcing, authors unite directly with readers to gain funding for bringing a book to market – and readers are recognised in the book itself. Two areas of vanity are satisfied: the author’s and the reader’s. Interesting. However, there are problems – the most significant of which is brand (whether the author’s or the publisher’s). Let me explain…
In this article today (Live Nude Authors: UK’s Unbound Lets A-listers, Aspirants Pitch for Cash to Publish), the appropriately-named Roger Tagholm, discusses how social media has empowered A-list authors to engender new relationships with potential readers by engaging with them directly in search of funding. Readers can, in effect, sponsor the production of new titles and thereby reduce potential risk.
However, the problem here is the term “A-listers” – i.e., authors who are already known. Who have brand collateral. Who can build on a promise, so to speak. Investment in these projects by readers is relatively low risk because the rewards are potentially reliable: they know what they’ll get (mind you, one wonders whether Lucien Freud’s painting of the Queen was what was expected from a well-known “brand”…).
But what about unknown authors? Here we’re back to the same problem which has dogged publishers for years: investing in the unknown. All is not lost – and once more we come back to what a publisher stands for with its brand. If publishers had the wit and wherewithal to define their brand and what they stand for, the potential here is that they can “crowdsource” ideas to engender pro-active commissioning (rather than re-active desperation).
Publishers themselves can build crowdsourced portals based around brand relevant topics: history; engineering; travel etc. Publishers can interact with readers to grasp desire and to understand content. Readers can become more involved in commissioning strategy and, in so doing, establish longer term and direct relationships with publishers to the mutual benefit of both.
But we come back to the key issue: what does a publisher stand for? What is its brand? What is its emotional resonance with its readers? How does its brand make sense to people who have never come across it before? Brand – through actual delivery and evocative demonstration – will be key to a crowdsourcing model.
Some of the UK’s more innovative publishers have already developed some form of direct relationship with their readers and have some form of platform from which to develop. However, without being privy to subscriber data, I suspect that the volumes of consumer data are on the low side and the responsiveness of that data is probably even lower.
The issue, it seems to me, is to create excitement in a brand large enough to permit significant levels of social media attraction to engender a robust response. For example, if a publisher has 200,000 readers on its data system but only engenders a response of 0.2%, the numbers involved are likely to be too low to create either (a) a commercially viable product and (2) a commercially relevant product.
Brands need to be powerful enough to engender data submission from existing and new readers and to engender significantly bigger than average campaign response levels. In other words, a brand cannot rest on its laurels by just attracting data – it must truly invest in interaction, learn, change, develop and grow. In other words, defining the brand strategy and investing in brand-based marketing will become crucial.
Metrics – and subsequent sales – will define the success of such a policy and define publishing strategy, as is right and proper. Publishing cannot afford to be so arrogant as to ignore its end-user market – alas, not even the most aesthetic of Oxbridge commissioning editors can afford to sit in their ivory towers these days.