In one area at least, the new economy is delivering on its promise.
Unlike expensive vanity publishing of the past, today an author need not part with a penny to see their words in print and can even make money.
In just three years, Canadian Internet entrepreneur Bob Young’s Lulu (http://lulu.com) has gone from nothing to a turnover of $16 million and is now publishing 2,500 new titles a week by unknown authors from across the globe.
“Our mission is not to discover the next Harry Potter — although every author who comes to Lulu thinks they have the next Harry Potter — but to provide an outlet for ordinary people,” Young told Reuters.
“Ordinary publishers … want 100 authors selling a million books each. We want 1 million authors selling 100 books each. We are the long tail of publishing.”
Already the Web site has more than 100,000 titles available to print or download, is selling 90,000 books a month and expects to sell up to 2 million next year.
“It is our goal to reach into every major market in the world,” said Young, in Britain to check on his growing European operation and visit his parents in the southwestern county of Wiltshire.
Primarily in English, Lulu has published works by authors from 80 different countries and sold them to 60 different countries.
It costs an author nothing to make their masterpiece available for purchase online — unlike traditional vanity publishing, which can be an expensive undertaking.
The author has complete control over title, content, length and price — charging whatever price they choose as long as it covers the printing cost of about $8 a copy.
Once that cost has been deducted, the remainder is split between the author, who takes 80 percent, and Lulu, which takes 20 percent.
And it even has a green tinge. As printing is “on demand,” there are no warehouses stacked with books waiting to be sold or pulped.
This is an important issue for Young, who had a desk and chair built out of unsold copies of his traditionally published book, “Under the Radar,” about his time as cofounder of the Red Hat open source software company.
BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE
“We have books on every subject. There is no pattern. We have as many technical books as we have poetry books,” he said. “It is publishing by the people for the people.”
“The latent book in everyone now has an outlet,” he added. “Everybody is an expert on something, and others will be interested in it.”
Young, 52, doesn’t worry that the traditional publishing companies may poach some of his budding authors.
“The publishers trawl the site. We have lost a couple of authors, but that is not really the market we are in,” he said.
Publisher-turned-literary agent Patrick Janson-Smith of Christopher Little agency — the agency that handles Harry Potter’s creator J.K. Rowling — said the Internet was becoming a force to be reckoned with.
“We are all having to wake up to the new world … I am constantly checking blogs to find the buzz,” he told Reuters. “It is incredibly time consuming, but people are getting book deals from there.”
“Publishers do trawl the Web in the search for a gem, and if they are then you can guarantee that agents are too,” he added.
Liz Thomson, editor of British trade journal Publishing News, said she expected that publishers would indeed take that approach and use it as another way of finding talent.
“I can see that publishers would do that — although I wouldn’t expected them to find more than one or two authors that way and I therefore don’t see them worrying about it as competition,” she told Reuters.
An example of a successful book on Lulu is “The Replica Watch Report” by expert Richard Brown — about recognizing the differences between fake and real watches.
Brown took it to a publisher who rejected it because of anticipated sales of just 1,000 copies a year.
So he put it on Lulu, where it does indeed sell 1,000 copies a year — on which he makes a profit of $28 a copy.
“A deal with a publisher wouldn’t give him anything like that,” Young said.
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