Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Trying to democratise publishing - David Thorpe

I used to look down on self-publishing, as most writers did. I did kind of self-publish a book in the 1980s, in that I was part of a workers' co-op which published the book, and, while it was a valuable experience, had no wish to repeat it because of the hard work involved -  and that was before the Internet!

As we all know, since then publishing has been transformed by the spread of print-on-demand and the ebook revolution, social media and the plethora of channels and platforms through which creative content can now be delivered.

It seems that there is now a distinction between self-publishing and procuring author services, a distinction that is common in the USA. One can procure the services of print-on-demand or e-book conversion, and then one's book can be published by a publisher.

The difference from traditional publishing is that the publisher still pays the author income derived from their sale of the books, but the author does not receive an advance at the start. Crucially, the author keeps far more rights.

If I was to be cynical I would say that it doesn't matter what you call it, it's self-publishing by proxy, but on the other hand anecdotal evidence suggests that most young readers don't really notice whether a book has been published by a well-known publisher or one they have hardly heard of, so in practice it makes far less difference than you would think.

I tested this out last year when a friend who runs a publishing company of this type offered to publish an updated e-version of my slim volume Doc Chaos: The Chernobyl Effect. They gave the book a page on their website, a Facebook page and some social marketing, and every now and again I get some money from sales, so it's almost like having a 'proper' publisher. Plus I keep all the rights.

It seemed ok. Once I had accepted this idea then there still remained in my mind the thorny issue of marketing. My friend -  Chris - and I talked over this issue and came up with the idea of starting a co-op that would include anybody who wanted to join it and offers services in the area of publishing. Especially the all-important function of profile raising.

We wanted particularly to attract trade members who would offer their services at a discount to members, who would also include authors. Members could be: any publishers, book and book cover designers, artists, illustrators, marketeers, publicists, social media marketing wizards, readers, proofreaders, editors, printers and any others who provide services that enable a publishing business to function effectively.

We identified that there is strength in numbers, so the more trade service providers and authors band together, then the higher the collective profile they would achieve.

We said that the co-op should be not-for-profit so that people could join it without the fear of being ripped off.

We managed to get some free advice from the local co-op advisory service who suggested the legal model we've adopted.

We persuaded a few people to join the start-up, including the most successful independent Welsh literary magazine, Cambria magazine, the University of Wales at Trinity St David's, and social media publishers Americymru and Denis Campbell's UK Independent channels.

Although both companies are based in Wales, as is the head office (at the University of Wales, Trinity St David's), membership of the Co-op is open to anyone, anywhere. The whole point of the publishing revolution is that it transcends geographical boundaries.

 All of this has taken the last year.

Now we are throwing the doors open to anybody else who wants to join. It's a bit of an experiment, none of us have any idea how successful it will be, but we do know that it's very important to network. So we're busy trying to form as many partnerships as we can.

I should add, I don't make any money out of this. I just want to see publishing adapt and thrive and independent opportunities for authors and artists to continue to exist.

Oh yes, it's called Cambria Publishing Co-op.


Sue Purkiss said...

Sounds a really interesting idea!

Penny Dolan said...

This co-operative idea sounds a good one. Wishing you and everyone involved lots of success. Thanks, David.

David Thorpe said...

Thanks Sue and Penny!

Joan Lennon said...

Interesting stuff! I'll be talking about this to folk -