Hay Festival 2011: publishers open books to the crowd
Finally publishers and authors alike, are embracing the benefits of the web, finds Emma Barnett.
Earlier this week comedian Paul Merton joked on stage at The Telegraph Hay Festival that the event’s least appropriate sponsor would be Amazon’s Kindle.
Predictably enough, the literary crowd, still very much fans of the physical book, roared with laughter.
However, with plenty of booklovers sitting with their ereaders in festival deckchairs all over Hay, and sales of Kindle ebooks having just overtaken hardback sales in the UK, the benefits of digital devices and platforms finally seem to be catching on in the publishing world.
A manifestation of this is Unbound, a promising new digital publishing platform, which allows members of the public to fund and influence authors’ works at the point of creation.
The brainchild of John Mitchinson, who co-created the TV series QI, and two other writers, Unbound was launched at Hay in a bid to bring online crowd-funding to British publishing.
Taking its lead from the American site, Kickstart, where users pledge an average of $80 per person to fund ideas and projects they like, Mitchinson is hoping the company’s transparent form of publishing will improve the communication between author and reader.
“We have this wonderful technology available and yet until now, the publishing industry has treated it like a threat – when actually the web can facilitate incredible communication with the most important person in the whole process – the reader,” Mitchinson said.
“We are gathering readers to pledge support for ideas authors have. Weirdly the publishing industry focuses all of its attention on selling books to retailers and the most important part of the process – the reader – is left out of it. We are really trying to involve the readers at an earlier stage of the process which could be transformative as authors will have better visibility of how their ideas are being received by their target audience as they write,” he explained.
Several high profile writers have already chosen to use the site to launch their more ‘left field’ projects which traditional publishers won’t touch, including Terry Jones, the ex-Monty Python writer and performer and Amy Jenkins, the writer of the hit cult TV series This Life.
Each author will publish an extract from their book and a video pitch of their idea on the site in a bid to get financial support from would-be readers.
Book lovers, if swayed, can then pledge anything from £10, which will get them a first edition of their chosen book and access to an author’s ‘digital shed’ so they can put forward ideas to the writer while the creative process is in flow.
Pledges go up to £250, which will get the ‘patron’ lunch with the author, a first edition, an ebook version and full access to writer via their digital shed on Unbound.co.uk.
Unbound also hopes to help new writers get their first book published, but unlike Kindle’s self-publishing platform, upon which anyone can write, these authors will have some idea of whether there is indeed an audience for their work and whether crucially, they are willing to pay for their content.
Indeed during a festival session called ‘The First Novel’, newly published author Shireen Jilla, admitted she was terrified at the thought of Twitter and having her own professional Facebook page, but soon realised it was essential for promoting her first book and creating a crucial connection with readers.
And it is this direct dialogue between writer and reader which seems to have missing from the publishing world, until now.
For information on upcoming events at the Hay Festival, see the Hay Festival programme.