#FutureChat recap: Crowdfunding's crowded fund of opinion

Image - iStockphoto: nastco
Image – iStockphoto: nastco

‘A writer’s work has value and should be paid for’

Philip Jones
Philip Jones

As our #FutureChat recap comes to the ether, my Bookseller colleague Philip Jones, inCornerstone in joint venture with Unbound,  is reporting that the UK’s Penguin Random House imprint Cornerstone will take over publishing trade editions of books crowdfunded on the Unbound platform. Jones writes:

Unbound said the joint venture would allow it to focus on its core business of “crowd-funding innovative, challenging books and developing the direct relationship between authors and readers”. Unbound will continue to fund and produce its own special first editions for subscribers who pledge via the website, but the editions distributed through the book trade will be produced and sold by Cornerstone under a profit-share arrangement.

John Mitchinson
John Mitchinson

As a specialised presence in the crowdfunding arena — expressly created for the realisation of author-led projects — it’s hard to argue with John Mitchinson’s comments in Jones’ write-up:

John Mitchinson, publisher of Unbound described the deal as “a win-win for our authors”. He said: “They get all the excitement of reader-contact through crowdfunding combined with the security of knowing that the trade editions of their books are being sold and distributed by the most effective team in publishing.”

But in the Wider West — where book projects are jostled in a swelling crowdfunding drive for dance, theater, photography, fashion, technology, film, food, art, games, and more — the digital dynamic has a way of putting the challenges of publishing  on a more public pedestal than they’ve stood for many decades. That’s something that Friday’s #FutureChat about crowdfunding with The FutureBook digital publishing community confirmed.

Crowdfunding has in some ways pulled the author out of the shadows, exposing of of the steps of the process to the reading public.

Jordan Koluch
Jordan Koluch

With that, Jordan Koluch (pictured), writing in Authoright’s online magazine (page 14) before Christmas, seems to have hit on what would become a bit too much exposure at Kickstarter for some folks blinking in the new year’s glare.

By early January, YA author Laura Lam would be guest-posting for  Chuck Wendig about the case of writer Stacey Jay, who “ended up taking down [her] Kickstarter [campaign], and writing a blog post saying she’s stepping back from writing as Stacey Jay for a while.”

In that post about her Kickstarter retreat, Jay wrote:

The only thing I don’t apologize for is believing a writer’s work has value and should be paid for….expecting a writer to write for free [is wrong] because it is their “art.” Art is not devalued when it is paid for, it is lifted up and respected and I believe we’re all better as a people when that happens.

Stacey JayThe question at the center of much discussion about the Jay (pictured) incident revolved around her Kickstarter campaign’s appeal for three months’ living expenses to fund the writing time for a new book.

Critics argued that a bookish crowdfunding campaign should limit its pitch to direct work-project-related costs along the lines of editing, cover design, and other professional production services.

“Kickstarter is to fund projects and products, not lives,” Wendig summarised the complaints in his rejoinder. He and Lam had come to the defense of Jay in their four-hander. Wendig asked, “What, she and her family should starve while she writes the book?” Wendig went on:

You’re yelling at a woman in a boat because you’re mad at the ocean. Meaning: if you don’t like the Kickstarter option, or self-publishing, or traditional publishing, okay. Criticize the mode and the model. But sniping at those using those models is, to my mind, a little bit of dirty pool.

Charlotte Eyre
Charlotte Eyre

But did you hear about the Kickstarter efforts that didn’t get funded?

Our #FutureChat had  been been prompted by The Bookseller’s coverage from Charlotte Eyreof Kickstarter’s announced 2014 success, in which, Eyre (pictured) wrote, “Publishing was the third most common type of project on Kickstarter, with 2,064 successfully funded ventures worldwide, after music (4,009) and film and video (3,846).”

In our walkup to #FutureChat, I’d then pointed out that since 2009, Kickstarter’s publishing projects have failed to fund, slightly more than two-to-one, a track record less happy than some crowdfunding boosters realise.

And by the time our chat began, frequent participant Jane Steen in Chicago — who worked with the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Orna Ross on the Ethical Author Code announced at November’s The FutureBook Conference — had posted her own perspective in Asking too much: Is crowdfunding a viable replacement for the publishing advance, and do we even need one?

Steen, Jane @JaneSteenSteen (pictured) summed up the Jay-triggered controversy:

Stacey Jay’s Kickstarter disaster—the YA writer attracted a storm of criticism and a huge number of tweets both for and against her when she asked for living expenses as part of a Kickstarter campaign—is a textbook example of how the fragmentation of the book market brought about by online bookselling, one-step self-publishing and POD has caused a shift away from the way authors have earned their money for the last half-century without providing a replacement with which everyone’s comfortable.

And as recently as Monday, Jane Litte at the influential romance-based “Dear Author” site was working through crowdfunding issues in The  Downsides of the High risk, Low Reward Kickstart Business Model. Litte writes, “One of my primary problems with an author KS [Kickstarter campaign] is that it shifts the risk from the author to the reader…The reader who donates, no matter at what level, may never see a return on her donation. This is why I call it a gift.”

Jane Litte
Jane Litte

And Litte (pictured) cleanly dismisses ideas of a Kickstarter campaign working like an advance in publishing:

An advance is money a publisher pays an author in advance of royalties earned. And the publisher keeps the first dollar of every sale until the amount of the advance is met and only then are additional sums of royalties paid by the publisher. Additionally, advances are paid in splits.

Such an array of entry points to a complicated suite of issues were at play in #FutureChat.

If anything, what is clearest about crowdfunding as we all place our bids here on 2015 is that the digital publishing community may be as widely conflicted on such methods of project finance as it is on so many other issues. Disruption, in case you were wondering, is still very much at hand.

Here — with our thanks, as ever, for a lively, intelligent, and friendly debate — is a sampling of highlights from the discussion about crowdfunding. And potato salad.

 Read More

By Porter Ander­son

The FutureBook: #FutureChat recap: Crowdfunding’s crowded fund of opinion

Read the full post at: TheBookseller.com/futurebook


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