Cycling polemicist strikes viral paydirt

Case study by Tim

Writing his Bike To Work book, Carlton Reid’s intention was to produce a conventional printed tome.  A trade publisher of 25 years experience, his business model was simple – sell sufficient advertisements to pay for the book and then give away the product.   Creating an eBook was an afterthought.   Nevertheless, in the two years since it was published, it has been downloaded more than 350,000 times and generated around £25,000 worth of advertising revenue.

Reid wrote, edited, designed and laid-up the book and took all but ten of the photographs.  “I am self-taught in publishing in the round”, he explains.  He also identified the advertisers, but the deals were all closed by his long-time business associate – his father.  “Being one-person removed from the selling keeps me (editorially) clean”.

When the book took longer to complete than he expected, he put the finished product online first – it went viral, and print was abandoned (save for a print-on-demand edition).

The book has appeared in many versions – some being distributed by third parties like the London Cycle Campaign.  But digital distribution is all though Issuu, the Danish self-publishing platform.  Reid generates a final pdf and then loads in on to Issuu’s server.  Conversion into a format that can be read on computers and tablets such at the iPad and the Kindle happens automatically.

“I was one of the first UK publishers on Issuu and they did publicise the book at first, which was a great help.  It is still the best platform, as far as I am concerned, and everything they do is free”, he says.  One of the many appeals of their service is the diagnostics.  Of course they show how many times the book has been downloaded, but they also track how far into the book people read.

“There is a huge spike in the first ten pages, as you would expect”, says Reid.  “But you can also see how many people have actually opened up every page.  You can show advertisers that, say 15,000 people have viewed your advert.  That is something that no newspaper can do, and I think that it has actually converted a lot of our advertisers to eBooks as an advertising vehicle.”

So successful has the Bike To Work been, that Reid has turned down conventional publishers who offered to take on his next venture.  To be published in the early Spring, Roads Were Not Built For Cars will be a history of roads and road improvements in the decades before the motor car.  As with his previous book, Reid’s intentions are more polemical than commercial.  Nevertheless, the early signs are that he has found another successful niche.  An eight-page sampler has been downloaded 11,000 times – in part generated by an energetic Twitter campaign.

Although he has been in business his entire working life – he set up and subsequently sold the trade magazine Bike Biz – Reid’s philosophy is decidedly non commercial.  “I don’t factor in my own time at all, because I enjoy what I do and I would be doing it even if it did not make a bean”, he says.  He is by no means the first inadvertent capitalist – but unlike many he seems quite content to pursue his own projects while his commercial interests thrive in an apparently parallel universe.