Report: More Bucks for Your Books – What Alternative Revenue Sources Exist in the Digital Age?

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Words by Chris Russell, photos by Daniel Solomons.

Eric Huang from digital agency Made In Me chaired July’s Byte The Book, which brought together James Woollam of F&W Media, Head of eBooks at Unbound Xander Cansell and Asi Sharabi, one of the names behind the hugely successful Lost My Name book series.

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Justine Solomons thanks July sponsors Peer1 Hosting  (sitting to the right in the front row).

Opening the floor, Eric pointed out that the much-parroted line ‘Publishing is dying’ is actually a lazy cliché, and in all corners of the industry people are finding new and innovative ways to generate revenue. He then passed over to James Woollam, and the audience learned how illustrated non-fiction publishers F&W have, in recent years, morphed from a trade-focussed business to a consumer-focussed one. Where once their income was derived chiefly from selling books on the craft industry, the bulk of their revenue now comes from the retail of craft products themselves. Every new F&W author is asked to create a suite of products around their book, from video content to online craft courses, and in doing so build a community of  ‘fans’ who will continue to generate multiple, distinct revenue streams over the course of their career.

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The panel from right to left, Eric Huang (chair), Asi Sharabi, Xander Cansell and James Woollam

Crowd-funded publisher Unbound was, Xander explained, founded three years ago “by three authors in a pub”. Like Kickstarter, Unbound offers readers a tiered system of rewards that go above and beyond the simple purchase of a book. The most popular of these, by far, has turned out to be lunch with the author, which suggests consumers are keener than ever to invest in experiences that allow them to connect more deeply with their favourite writers. In short, Unbound combine an effective technical platform with an ability to tap into the emotional side of the industry; that is to say, they understand why readers love books. This is clearly also true of Asi Sharabi and the team behind the Lost My Name children’s book series, which has notched up sixty thousand sales across ninety countries during its first year alone. As Eric underlined, this is very unusual for a debut picture book – especially for one which, according to Asi, “began as a pet project”. The company’s success lies in developing a whole new technology: though personalised books have been around for forty years, to Asi the quality seemed inconsistent, and furthermore it appeared that personalised print-on-demand simply didn’t exist. Creating their own personalised POD engine, they tapped into the hugely profitable family market and are now being approached by other businesses hoping to license the Lost My Name tech platform for their own use.

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A physical book makes an appearance on the Byte the Book panel

So what advice did the panel have for others in the publishing industry hoping to emulate their success? James revealed that ‘free’was a vital part of F&W’s strategy, and the company was proactive in offering free online content that would help drive traffic to their website. They also pay close attention to their Google Analytics data, and in one recent example published a book called The Knitted Alphabet when they discovered the search term “knitted letters”was bringing a groundswell of customers to their site. Xander explained that Unbound had seen success with writers who nurtured their audience. “Find something you can offer that no one else can”, he concluded, “and let people pay you for it”. Asi, finally, re-emphasised the importance of finding and filling gaps in the market. “Anywhere there is inefficiency”, he said, “is exciting for a technologist”.

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Chair Eric Huang does a great job of looking after audience and panel

The tone of the evening was perhaps best summed up by a comment on the tweet-board from sci-fi writer @JasminKirkbride. Could the future of publishing, she suggested, be that it’s not called publishing at all…?

If you enjoyed this report  and want to keep up with the latest happenings in publishing as well as network with publishers and authors alike join us at The Club at The Ivy on Monday 15th September 2014 .

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