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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Book Publishing By Subscription: Everything Old Is New Again

Here, via Boing Boing, is a new/old twist on the self-publishing model: Fantasy novelist Diane Duane has financed her latest book, The Big Meow ("third and last in the Feline Wizards sequence") by soliciting advance subscriptions from readers.  The completion of the book was delayed by health and other problems, as Duane explains on her website linked above, but it has now been written and will be made available to subscribers, primarily in ebook format, after it has been edited and designed.  I can't tell from her site how much subscribers were asked to pay, and Duane hasn't disclosed how many individuals took her up on the offer, so there's no way to know how successful the venture was.

This way of publishing books, in which the "author's advance" is generated by direct sales to readers without the intervention of a publisher middleman, goes way back: Samuel Johnson's Dictionary was financed this way in the eighteenth century, and Mark Twain raised money for the publication of U.S. Grant's autobiography by sending salespeople door to door to sell advance subscriptions.

Today, of course, marketing, payment, and delivery of the finished product can all be handled electronically, which saves time and money.  But it would seem that attracting a sufficient number of readers willing to fork over cash months or even years before the product is ready will be a difficult challenge, except perhaps for the handful of authors who already boast an avid fan base.

In the years to come, we'll be seeing more and more experiments with new business models for publishing, and I for one am hesitant about predicting with any assurance which ones will work and which won't. 

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