New opportunities in publishing for author and publishers

By Dan Kieran, co-founder and CEO of Unbound

Publishing is being changed radically through technology.  In the past the publisher was the gatekeeper, acting as an intermediary between authors and their readers.  Technology is now allowing authors and content creators to go direct to the readers themselves, without the intermediary function.

This is how I see the publishing industry changing in the near future and the opportunities this will provide:

Smaller publishers will increasingly provide award-winning books

While large publishing groups continue to use their old approach, they’ll continue to overlook potentially game-changing and award-winning books.

This year The Milkman by Anna Burns, published by Faber & Faber, won the ManBooker Prize. Faber is a big independent publisher, but they haven’t lost their ability to find and define the public’s tastes. But going direct to readers is also becoming a key indicator for changes in publishing. Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus won The Rathbones Folio Prize this year. This was published by Penned In The Margins who combine publishing, performance and events. The runner–up, Mary Anne Sate Imbecile by Alice Jolly, was published by Unbound the crowdfunding publisher (full disclosure: I run Unbound).

Data will be key to making publishing decisions

The advancement of machine learning and data science means it’s easier to generate insights into human behaviour. This extends to the books we want to read. It’s already possible to use social media data to spot trends. By developing the right tools, publishers will be able to use this data in real time to spot new ideas gaining traction and commission books capturing the zeitgeist.

Crowdfunding enables the direct-to-consumer monetisation of virality that’s inherently stored within an author or content creator’s online. You can sell more than a book and going direct opens up higher price points.

At Unbound we have used more than seven years’ of transactional data to build a machine learning tool. It can be used to identify authors and potential authors with ideas that could be turned into high value books. For example, a video games content creator we identified raised £300k on Unbound to fund the launch of his new book. £100k came in a single day. We can also let authors know how much their book is likely to raise through our crowdfunding model in advance of it launching.

All publishers are looking for the same thing; books that audiences will love to read. Data science can’t write great books, but it can show you where they’re hiding.

A democratised industry

By changing the way books are chosen, and with new data analysis de-risking new authors by proving the audience exists online, even if there is no precedent in the historic sales data, a much more diverse range of voices will be heard.

The finances will change too. Authors earnings have been falling dramatically for years. Unbound already gives our authors a 50/50 profit split, but I think a more equal relationship between traditional publishers and authors is now inevitable. Authors and content creators can point to their online fanbases, that they’ve worked hard to build, as the key to the value they’ve created.

Engaging reader communities

Many of the traditional marketing and advertising formats used by publishers are disappearing or becoming less effective. With bookstores shutting, publishers have fewer opportunities to physically market their books.

With declining newspaper readership, print media ads are catering to a diminishing audience, and certainly not a young one. The book reviews are also reducing. Publishers will tell you anecdotally that even good reviews don’t guarantee increased sales as they once did.

There are also difficulties in marketing via other media platforms. Authors are often neglected by broadcast media in favour of actors and musicians. New generations tend to value the opinions of friends and others in their online communities, blogs and forums, over the efforts of brands.

For all these reasons, it will be up to publishers to build a community of loyal readers; engaging them, listening to what they want, and implementing some of their ideas. Such a community means that each book will have more traction, as readers will treat new publications as recommendations rather than advertising.

The future of publishing will bring benefits to all stakeholders. I look forward to seeing an increasing diverse array of author and their equally diverse subject matter.



Dan Kieran is the Co-Founder and CEO of Unbound, a crowdfunding publisher that combines data science and an award-winning publishing brand with an online marketplace. Readers pre-order books through pledging, Unbound publishes and sells them, giving authors a 50/50 profit split and access to an engaged community.

The publisher’s 200k users from 195 countries have pledged £7m+ to fund 436 books to-date, including bestsellers like Letters of Note and The Good Immigrant.

By predicting future trends, Unbound funds books more quickly and can reach instant, data-driven acquisition decisions. The best example involves a video games influencer, who raised £300k on Unbound, £100k of which in a single day.




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