The world of book publishing is a dog-eat-dog world, with publishers cutting back on marketing budgets and offering smaller and smaller advances. They’re becoming reluctant to accept new authors without some measure of prior success. As music and journalism have adapted to the digital era, albeit not without controversy, book publishing, the oldest trade among the three, is host to entrepreneurs like Eileen Gittens, founder and CEO of Blurb, who hopes to lower the barrier to entry for authors.
There is profit to be made for companies like Blurb. Its book publishing model, requiring of authors a standard flat fee per book, enables burgeoning or accomplished authors to set their own price and keep the profits. If a book comes with a standard fee of $19.95, and the author sets a price of $26.95, $7 is profit that would go directly into the author’s pocket.
Authors looking to publish their novels have similarities with musicians looking to break out into the music scene. For instance, Bandcamp has a successful business model for music e-tailing, short of a distribution platform. It’s akin to Blurb, a one-stop shop for authors to publish their creation. In 2011 alone, Blurb has sold nearly 100,000 books through its “Set Your Price Program” and netted authors over $1 million in profit, while boasting a customer base increase of 44 percent since 2010.
When you do the math, on average an individual author will net $10 per book or e-book campaign, but like with music and every other industry, there exists a disparity between the head and the long tail. Blurb and Bandcamp are not necessarily risk-free solutions to achieve your dream of becoming the next J.K. Rowling. The number of books or tracks you sell relies on your marketing prowess. The marketing geniuses will sell hundreds or even thousands of books, while at the other end of the spectrum, those without a marketing plan, may sell only a few to friends and family.
As in an open publishing platform, where the author is responsible for the content, the quality of the content will differ dramatically. Good authors have a greater chance at selling books, while bad writers should have more to worry about than the number of books they haven’t sold. Gittens acknowledges this fact. “The quality of that vision is subjective. That said, there is a top tier of books and authors that sell more because they reach a larger audience with a more powerful story.”
Despite the upfront investment, even authors, like musicians, seek to build a core foundation of fans that will time and time again come back and purchase the next novel. Some authors may decide to give away books. “Authors looking to publish their work are typically looking to build a following,” Gittens says. Others will sell them at a fraction of the price in hopes that they’ll garner the attention and loyalty of readers or even traditional publishers. “Sometimes an author who has success on Blurb will be picked up with a traditional publisher. We love that too, by the way.”
After all, according to Gittens, many authors with book deals today will be left on their own to develop a marketing campaign. “The benefit of going down the traditional publishing route is reduced. Authors now have to fund and market their own projects. So the smart ones are realizing they don’t need a classic publishing deal. They can do it themselves.”
The marketing aspect means a DIY publishing platform like Blurb is not necessarily an attractive alternative for neophyte authors. But for prominent authors and even photographers with an existing following, it can work. Larry Smith, editor of SMITH Magazine, has used Blurb twice — first for the successful run his book, “Six Words About Work,” and his second, due out in April, “Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life.” “The result is as fine a book as I’ve done. When quality is this high, it makes the lines between ‘traditional’ and ‘self-published’ blurred to the point of extinction,” Smith told Blurb. Other Blurb authors have included, The Grateful Dead, David Kirsch, celebrity trainer and author of “The Butt Book,” The Kitchen Sisters, and NPR radio personalities.
The self-publishing model doesn’t come without competitors. Lulu, in conjunction with its competing book publishing goes as far as to offer publicity campaigns to get the book into the hands of the press, but for a steep price. On the other hand, Blurb, while offering curation and discovery in the form of “Staff Picks,” “Best Sellers,” and a monthly newsletter with marketing tips, has yet to jump into marketing its user’s books.
“There is much more coming this year in terms of services dedicated to this very topic,” Gittens assured Digital Trends.
With Gitten’s emphasis on social media as the forefront of any author’s marketing campaign, Blurb’s next step will be a foray into an offering of social tools allowing authors to build a loyal following. “The smartest thing an author can do to promote their books is to grow their community. Blurb’s upcoming social tools will allow them to do so.”