Craig Mod has an interesting story about publishing a guide book to the Tokyo art world. Here’s Craig’s description of what happened:
I coauthored and designed a guide book to the Tokyo art world: Art Space Tokyo.
It came out in 2008 to much acclaim and sold out rather quickly.
The publisher we originally published with didn’t have the money to support a reprint. It sat in limbo for ages.
This is a niche book — Tokyo & art.
It’s also a beautiful book: silkscreened clothbound hardcover, detailed maps, printed and bound in Japan. Elegant.
The original publisher was talking about reprinting it — cheaply, paperback, disposable. Destroying much of the original charm.
This is ridiculous. So I bought back worldwide publishing rights from the publisher. Drawing inspiration from REWORK — looking sideways, ignoring the ‘usual’ rules of publishing, this is what’s now happening:
Sales folk at traditional distributors push for cheap cheap cheap because it’s easy to sell. The problem is cheap cheap cheap doesn’t generate sustainable profits. And leads to disposable, flimsy books.
Instead of compromise, we’re raising the price. This lets us keep the same high quality, which readers love. It also means the revenue generated by the sales can lead to expansion of the project. Instead of every sale eeking us back to break-even, every sale helps lay the foundation for expanding the project.
We’re selling direct. No middlemen. This is a niche product — why go through traditional distribution channels that take 50% of the price? Our niche audience can get it direct, online. We’re good at online. This again helps us maximize returns to further invest in the product.
We’re funding through the community on Kickstarter. By keeping our goal high, we know that we’re be able to produce enough books to ensure real returns that can be reinvested for real followup.
Lots of small presses hobble along from release to release, letting sales teams dictate the worth of their books. If we really believe in our products we should be charging what’s necessary to keep things operating. Otherwise, maybe we should rethink our publishing methodologies.
Gina Trapani goes the self-publishing route
Tech writer and coder Gina Trapani always wanted to try self-publishing and writing a book with readers. She recently did just that — here’s Gina’s story:
Small teams that cut the bullshit and ship a product that works on a short timeline: that’s what 37signals has come to represent to me. So when I wanted to publish a how-to book on a cutting-edge web application that is both delightful and laughably complicated, I decided to follow in 37signals’ footsteps with Getting Real and create that team.
I turned down a request for a book proposal from a traditional publisher, assembled a small team of six, and self-published the preview edition of the first book on Google Wave in a matter of four weeks. Google Wave is no Basecamp—you need a reference to help you figure out what’s going on there. The Complete Guide to Google Wave is that guide and it’s free to read on the web and available as a PDF and color paperback.
Self-publishing has big advantages over a traditional book deal: notably, total control and timeline you define. Creating this book didn’t involve waiting around to sort out contract drama or fiddling with publisher-supplied Microsoft Word templates. My co-author Adam Pash and I just started writing, and we did it on a public wiki, encouraging and incorporating reader feedback as we worked. We licensed the text under Creative Commons to encourage sharing. For the paperback version of the first edition, we were able to share revenue not with a faceless printer but with a charity in my community who creates taxpayers by creating jobs for developmentally disabled adults.
When you decide to stop hemming and hawing and start shipping, everything changes. While my little indie effort to explain a complicated tech product to humans won’t make the NY Times bestseller list, we created this book this way very much in the spirit of small, independent just-do-it entrepreneurship.