Ever since writing Lean Analytics I’ve been thinking about what a new publishing company might look like, one that is designed to do more than print books. I even contemplated starting a new company to tackle the problems in book publishing (but I decided against it). Still, I can’t help but get aggravated about how publishing works today and all the lost opportunity, both for authors and the publishing companies.
Writing Lean Analytics was an awesome experience. Bucket list awesome. I had a ton of fun working with my co-author Alistair Croll, and I’m still surprised (on a fairly regular basis) when someone tells me the book helped them. Alistair and I created something of value for other people, which is what we were trying to do. We’ve been around the world for speaking gigs, conferences and consulting. We’ve met hundreds of entrepreneurs (and intrapreneurs) that are working on awesome projects–people that are genuinely trying to make a difference and use data to do it. Creating Lean Analytics has been amazingly rewarding.
But the book publishing process is broken.
Traditional publishers’ expertise is too narrowly focused. Meanwhile the opportunities for distribution, marketing and revenue generation are huge and continuously increasing.
The book creation process begins way before a single sentence is ever written and doesn’t stop when the printing presses finish. Alistair and I knew this right away and started marketing. We hustled like crazy months before writing the book and continuously after. We published a free-ebook. We did numerous free webinars and speaking events. We promoted through our own networks. We did interviews and recorded video classes that got distributed on other sites. We wrote additional content and packaged a bundle of content for educators (targeting a specific vertical). In fact, we spent nearly our entire advance ($20k) on these initiatives (cutting into our profits but not the publisher’s), including building out the website, graphic design for the e-book, traveling and more. Marketing a book is a ton of work and publishers don’t do it in an effective way. But they benefit from the resulting book sales.
Alistair and I knew our efforts would pay off in book sales, but also beyond that. Fact: I’ve made more money from speaking and consulting than selling books. I think that speaks, in part, to the inequality of how book revenue is split between authors and publishers. It also speaks to the massive investment Alistair and I made in marketing. We were doing more than selling books, we were building a brand and using the book as a platform. Meanwhile the publisher doesn’t see a dime of that additional revenue because their model is all about printing and selling books.
Let’s be clear–I didn’t write a bestseller. For some folks that do write bestsellers things might be considerably different, but we’re also seeing way more awesome content creation from “everyone else”. Look at companies like Wattpad or Medium and how they continue to democratize the creation and discovery of content (which I would describe as “book-esque” or “with book potential”).
Book publishing is really about marketing books and authors. What we need are more book and author marketing companies, where publishing the book is one function of everything the company does.
Awhile ago I started writing a “spec” for what the book publisher of the future might look like. I’ve spent countless hours thinking about it (and occasionally ranting to people too!), and decided it was time to write some ideas down. The spec has sat for a few months gathering digital dust. So instead of leaving it there untouched, I’ve decided to share my ideas publicly.
You can check out the spec/ideas/vision here: http://bit.ly/1C7QfBg
It’s a simple Google document that you can make suggestions in and comment on. I hope you do! Maybe this will end up being an open sourced plan for the future of book publishing. Or maybe someone will decide to take some of these ideas and integrate them into projects they’re working on. Who knows. I’m definitely looking for input and hoping to incorporate other people’s ideas, comments, etc. into the document. What I’ve written to-date is very far from complete, but I think it’s a good framework. If you have questions for me about my experience writing & publishing Lean Analytics, please ask. I’ll do my best to answer as transparently as I can.
Book publishing today is pretty crappy, and I think more people need to work on fixing it. If you’re interested, check out the Book Publisher of the Future spec and let me know what you think!
Photo from Colton Witt.
* I want to make it clear that I very much appreciate O’Reilly’s involvement in Lean Analytics. The book wouldn’t have existed without them. My core argument, however, is that they could have done a lot more and in turn benefitted a lot more as well.