Now a new startup from the U.K. aims to take that model and apply it to the book publishing industry. Unbound is both a crowdfunding platform and a publisher. Authors pitch an idea and if enough readers support it, the book will be published. Like Kickstarter, if a book doesn't get sufficient backing, then supporters' pledges are refunded.
But unlike Kickstarter, which has an open submissions process, Unbound is only taking proposals from literary agents at this time. (It does have plans in the future to build out a mechanism for unknown authors to make their pitches before moving over to the main site.) The startup is kicking off with some very well-known names, including Monty Python's Terry Jones, whose proposal for "Evil Machines" - "a collection of thirteen cautionary tales" - needs 2,955 backers in the next 49 days in order to be published via the site.
Unbound also differs from Kickstarter insofar as the amount of money that needs to be raised for a particular project to move forward isn't clear. According to Unbound's co-founder Justin Pollard, the startup has opted to keep that amount hidden as "most authors have told us they'd rather not have a financial figure on the site, but prefer an idea of a band of supporters." Users do still have the ability to select the level at which they back a particular project, and there are different rewards based on the varying levels of support.
Will Crowdfunding Change the Publishing Industry?
As Unbound is the publisher in addition to the funding mechanism, it fulfills all the normal functions that a publisher would - seeing a book through the editing and printing process. Unbound splits a book's net profit 50/50 with the author. "We never make more money than the author," Pollard says, comparing Unbound to the traditional publishing industry where authors are lucky to earn 10% of the cover price. Pollard also points to the demands of retailers, too, and their expectations of discounts and contributions to display and marketing costs. "This is why books with print runs of fewer than 5,000 copies make less and less economic sense," says Pollard, "even though it is precisely these books that contain the most innovative and challenging ideas."
By this logic, "innovative and challenging ideas" are not the best bet for the mainstream publishing world, but it's hard to say if "innovative and challenging ideas" will be encouraged by Unbound any more than they are already via sites like Kickstarter. Does book publishing really need its own, separate crowdfunding platform?