August 16, 2005

Time for BookBaby?

Matt Blumberg has an interesting post over at his OnlyOnce blog, entitled Why Publishing Will Never be The Same, Part 1, in which he recounts his experience using iUniverse to publish a book.

The part that struck me was that they paid iUniverse $1500 up front, plus iUniverse takes 80% of the revenue. Now, admittedly, iUniverse is printing, packing, and shipping the books, as well as getting them on Amazon and other online sites where buyers can find and order them. But still, iUniverse's take seems too much to me.

This got me thinking.

Perhaps it's time for BookBaby, in the spirit of CD Baby.

Unfortunately, the direct CD Baby model wouldn't be a sufficient replacement for iUniverse, as it's up to the artist to make their own CDs and ship them to CD Baby. CD Baby is more like a consignment shop for your self-made CDs.

I think a BookBaby service would have to go a lot further -- it'd have to print and bind the books as part of the service. This would add to the costs, for sure. But why not do at least a 50/50 split on revenue with the author?

I also think BookBaby would, like CD Baby, need to offer its own online retail service to sell its books, but the bulk of sales would no doubt come from the big dot-coms.


  • Write a book.
  • Lay it out using some nice software tool, save as PDF
  • Create cover art, save as PDF
  • Sign up for BookBaby
  • Upload your PDFs
  • You pay BookBaby some one-time fee for each title. ($100? $200?)
  • BookBaby validates your files, prints one review copy, sends it to you
  • You approve the review copy, tell BookBaby to submit to Amazon, BN, etc.
  • Any time you make a sale, you get 50% of the revenue and BookBaby gets 50% of the revenue.

    Would it work?

    Posted by brian at August 16, 2005 09:50 AM

  • Comments

    That's not dissimilar to how works, actually. They don't do the amazon or promotional piece though.

    Posted by: Joe Crawford at August 16, 2005 01:45 PM

    Interesting idea, but what is the "printing" part all about? :)

    How many more trees have to be killed before we have the little foldup screen you can attach to your MP3/ebook/whatever gizmo? :) I've been waiting for that...

    I'd like to be able to walk to the area beach cafe listening to my little Muvo n200, attached to my arm and some earbuds...grab an espresso, sit down, unroll a plastic screen, connect it to an additional output port and start reading (while rocking, naturally). Perhaps I'll be reading the latest ebook maestro, the NYT, IBD, the Economist or less likely the UT.

    Posted by: Chris at August 17, 2005 12:43 AM

    Don't underestimate how much Amazon takes. My understanding is that Amazon demands a 55% discount from publishers not in a position to negotiate by themselves.

    Posted by: Larry Yudelson at August 17, 2005 07:02 AM

    From what (little) I understand of the publishing industry, the economies of scale are much more pronounced for books than for CDs. Editing, typesetting, and binding books can be expensive and time-consuming, and many publishers don't make much even with the large percentages they take.

    That said, it looks like companies like iUniverse, CafePress, and PublishAmerica are definitely making a go of the publishing niche that was once called "vanity press". The CafePress setup sounds most like what Brian is proposing, with less up-front cost and more DIY involvement.

    However, the DIY stigma is much more pronounced in the book business than in the music business. Shelf space aside, the kind of buzz-building events that authors rely on -- signings, launch parties -- are specifically denied to self-published books. Right or wrong, that would have to change before BookBaby would have an open field.

    Posted by: Chris Radcliff at August 19, 2005 10:04 AM

    "Shelf space aside, the kind of buzz-building events that authors rely on -- signings, launch parties -- are specifically denied to self-published books."

    Actually, this is not true. Well, it is true if the author believes it and doesn't have what it takes to campaign, push, promote, and fight for visibility. Many authors will arrange their own book tours, on their own dime. In fact it's becoming more and more common as publishers are allocating less and less budget to all the books they market, focusing instead on the bigger titles or proven authors. One great thing about the rise of the 'Net is that the stigma of self-publishing is going away quickly.

    Posted by: Brian Dear at August 23, 2005 07:21 AM

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