In the upstart world of social media, crowdfunding has already established itself as one of the most disruptive and creative forces at work.
The best-known crowdfunding website, Kickstarter, first launched back in 2009 with the aim to find a ‘new way to fund and follow creativity’. Since then, over $1.4billion has been pledged to its projects. In 2014 alone, the platform brought 22,252 projects to fruition, and 3.3. million people from almost every country donated over half a billion dollars. That’s $1,000 pledged per minute.
Now, the curious meme of crowdfunding is innovating the world of books.
If anything, the only thing that should come as a surprise it that it’s taken this long for such platforms to take off.
— I’veReadThat (@IveReadThat) January 27, 2015
Writers were some of the first transients to embrace the Internet as a home for their creativity. It gave them new ways to share and distribute their work. From the outset of crowdfunding, indie authors have flocked to sites allowing them to create fundraising pages for their projects. Some have done terrifically well – Frank Chimero’s The Shape of Design and Robin Sloan’s ‘Robin writes a book project’ come to mind.
Crowdfunding books is a beautiful idea. Even more so because of its simplicity.
The author-focused Unbound was one of the first to make such a model the foundation of a publishing house.
Led by Dan Kieran, their platform emphasises its straightforwardness, characterising the route to publication as an almost ludicrously simple three-step system of authors pitching, readers pledging and publishers, well, publishing.
As Sam Rennie, founder of the more recent publishing start-up, Readership, eloquently put it, ‘[Crowdfunding] gives readers the ultimate say in what gets published.’
With Readership and Unbound, authors can publish any book they find funding for. They write and their supporters get the opportunity to interact with the author as the book is being published. By asking the reader to judge the value of the writing, aspiring authors put their faith in a peer-to-peer funding model that promises transparency and a sense of community for both funder and fundee.
‘Stories only exist for the two people: the one telling the story and the one hearing it,’ explained Rennie, ‘So all of our activities and promotion is geared towards helping both [writers and readers].’
This emphasis on the link between writers and readers, as opposed to publishers and publishing trends, is something clearly visible in both Unbound and Readership’s models.
Though Unbound’s focus is demonstrably focused on authors and writers-group style conversation, rather than on readers and their tastes like Readership, the creation of community through the transferal of power – back to authors and readers – is precisely what makes crowdfunding so attractive to the innovative literary mind.
It does not only appeal to aspiring writers who have exhausted traditional routes to publication. It calls out to the readers who struggle to find what they want in the bookstore.
— Books That Matter (@booksthatmatter) February 17, 2015
Yet, what is interesting about Readership is that whilst it is using crowdfunding to innovate publishing, it is also using this style of monetary backing to innovate the experience delivered by the platform.
Rennie wants to truly embed Readership in online culture, expressing concern of the fact that any investment in the digital world or internet culture seems very temporary and just a brief exploration of a trend for many publishers.
He says, for example, that he loves that publishers are engaging and collaborating with bloggers and vloggers now, ‘But I’m a bit concerned that the publishing industry is just using the community for its numbers instead of taking the time to actually become a part the community themselves. The purpose behind Readership is to allow those types of beautiful, online communities the opportunity to support writers and readers alike.’
Part of this is a vast plan for community engagement over a plethora of social media channels: Twitter, Pinterest, Soundcloud and Facebook, to name a few.
Further steps include the use of completely unique online methods to spread the word. One such method includes using MineCraft to create a book world online; whilst another hopes to form a Reddit-like voting system for site users.
‘In the future, we’ll be adding awards for the most active users, so I see in that the potential for certain users to become a trusted voice in the community. For example, we can build a system that pairs you up with a particular user on the site, should you have similar tastes, so when they post a comment on a new story, the people paired with them can see what they think of it and decide to check it out or not.’
The Internet’s collective power and crowdfunding technology mean innovation can be constant in platforms like Readership.
The passion for development, palpable in Rennie’s vision and already witnessed in the early success of Kieran’s Unbound, is much needed in publishing.
Of course, there remain challenges when it comes to creating and establishing new platforms in an industry renown for its reactive approach to technological developments.
However, it is exciting to see writers and readers taking their own proactive stance with crowdfunded, community-driven options like these.
Publishers cannot extricate the literary from the digital. People like Rennie, or Kieran, are finally encouraging the book world to catch up with everyone else.