Brainstorming new publishing models

So all this talk about self-publishing has gotten me curious about alternate publishing models. As I see it, the main thing that traditional publishing still offers that self-publishing and vanity publishing lack is quality control. A book from a traditional publishing house will have been professionally edited for both content (plot, character, etc.) and mechanics (spelling, punctuation, etc.) It’ll have a professional cover and professional typesetting. The book that emerges from a traditional publisher may not be earth-shaking literature, but at least it will look good and be free of the grossest errors.

Self-published books, on the other hand, are stereotypically full of bad prose and grammatical errors stuffed inside a hideous cover made in MS Paint. Not all self-pubs fit this description, of course, but enough of them do to give the entire model a bad name.

So I says to myself: couldn’t you do both? And I dreamed up a kind of writer’s collective that would try to get the best of both worlds:

  1. Writers pay the collective for most of the cost of producing their book up front.
  2. The writers’ collective ensures that certain standards of quality are met. It requires that all books are professionally edited and fitted with a professional cover design.
  3. The collective acts as the nominal publisher for the book, but under terms that give most of the rights to the author.
  4. The collective takes a small portion of the receipts and uses it to pay for things like distribution and publicity for the entire company, things that cost more money than any one author is likely to be able to afford individually.

I brainstormed/daydreamed a few different ways of paying for this, including a “reverse advance” (the writer pays 100% of costs up front, and gets 100% of receipts until they recoup their costs, after which it’s 85/15) or a milder split costs model (writer pays 50% up front and splits receipts 50/50 until costs are recouped, etc.) There are a variety of possible problems with this, but really, it seems like it should work, right?

And lo and behold Google tells me that it’s been done, and with a certain level of success. The Writer’s Collective linked here has a higher price point than I was imagining—they say that an author could expect to pay $18,000 over the course of the year their book is in production, which is, um, steep—but the basic model is the same. And they do say that they began with a low-cost model similar to what I was imagining, but had to scale up to the higher-cost, high-return model that they use now. Perhaps I’ll contact then to discover the particular reasons for that. Nonetheless, a glance at their books on offer suggests that they’re hitting a much higher level of quality than most e-book publishers, and way higher than most self-pubbed books.

I have no intention to act on any of this in the near future, as I have neither the money nor the time to pursue it right now. But it’s a strange new world in publishing, and who knows what will happen in another 5 years?

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