GUEST BLOG: Crowdsourcing a book
9th September 2013 - Diana Bird
For over a decade, photographer Anthony Epes has been recording some of the world's great cities at dawn, capturing that magical moment when the first rays of sunshine are cast, creating vistas as memorable as the sunsets that are so romanticised.
But the publishing industry has changed hugely in the last few years, so when it came to publishing books of some of these photographs, it soon became apparent that the traditional route to the market wasn't going to work out for them. Here his wife and collaborator, Diana Bird, explains why they decided to crowdsource funding for their new books, London at Dawn and Paris at Dawn.
Ten years ago my photographer husband had a book published the 'regular' way. Agent finds publisher, author gets advance, publisher prints and sells to bookstores and tells author when to show up. Books sell well and second edition produced. Occasional statements appear over the years. Job done. Ten years later and said husband had another photo book. A publisher says, yes, we'll print it! But you'll need to buy 1000 books from us to sell yourself. At the price we sell to bookshops. And money upfront. Oh, we said. That doesn't sound like a good deal.
Disheartened we talked to others, we met with publishers, agents, authors: anyone who could provide us with some insights into the industry. 'You can't sell photo books any more, do something else!' 'Everything's changed, photo books are dying!' 'Bookshops are going out of business left right and centre, it's a dying industry, don't bother!' We met with several people who spoke wistfully of the industry's golden age, when books flew off shelves, when publishers took risks, when, when....
But there was something I didn't quite buy into. I'm not saying that the publishing industry isn't changing rapidly, nor that photography/travel books were being bought less than in previous years. I just began to realise that our books just wouldn't work for the industry as it stood at the moment. Ours was a niche book (and this book about why niche businesses are the future is very interesting).
Publishing a niche book doesn't make financial sense for most publishers; they have an expensive network of employees and companies to support and their caution is understandable. They are driven by the need for sales.
Amongst these folk we met many others who weren't saddened by the plight of the industry, who were in fact excited about the possibility for artists, writers and creatives to create their work and find ways to get it out there. Gradually it began to dawn on us that we didn't have to wait to be 'chosen' (as Seth Godin brilliantly explains here and here) by a big publisher. The opportunities to create an audience for our work using new online tools (blogs, crowdfunding, self-publishing, etc) was right there at our fingertips. There were so many encouraging words from people who loved our books: 'Just publish it yourself,' said a rather well known publisher. 'With your passion, you'll sell it much better than we ever could.'
And so now is the next step: publishing the book itself. This isn't about vanity publishing, printing a book regardless if what people think. We've set the biggest market analysis challenge we can think of: we have paid for half of our books and we are now looking to crowd fund for the remaining amount by pre-selling some of the books and offering up exclusive rewards and goodies for people who contribute to our crowd funding campaign. If the campaign works then we'll have our answer: the public (or a small sliver of them) want our book. If we don't, then it's back to the drawing board.
This is a huge gamble for us, we've invested a tremendous amount of energy into creating these books. But if this gamble pays off we will have created something from scratch, on our own, realising our vision of how they should be, and created an audience directly without waiting for a big company to help us. I am both terrified and extremely excited about this challenge before us. I'll keep you posted on how we are getting along.