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Cash from keystrokes: self-publishing for profile and profit

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After two decades as a journalist, magazine editor and author, Lorraine Wilson wanted to get away for a while.  She could not kick, however, the thought that her solo rail circumnavigation of Europe might make a book.  “I put up an appeal for crowdfunding on social media and was surprised to receive more than £2,000 – enough to meet most of my basic costs”, she says.

Facing Forwards: Europe. Solo. No Looking Back., the resulting volume, is just out on Kindle and Wilson has already been offered several ghostwriting commissions on the strength of the book.

She is one of many journalists and writers who are discovering new ways to market their work in self-published eBooks.  Peter Jukes created a 20,000 strong crowd-funding community to support his work live Tweeting the phone hacking trials.  Andy Leeks has sold tens of thousands of books written and ingeniously marketed while he was commuting. And, George Mahood has abandoned wedding photography on the back of the success of his eBook travelogues.

Their experiences all form part of a new book, Make eBooks Pay: Self-Publishing success strategies – including ten detailed case studies, available now from Amazon.

The lessons included in the book are applicable to any self publisher, but the are particularly aimed at journalists.  eBooks are particularly suited to publishing longer-form journalism because of all the new formats in which journalism has appeared the past two decades, they are the only one that the consumers have shown themselves dependably willing to pay for.  Speed of production and the relatively short length expectations also make eBooks an ideal medium for journalists who are looking for a new outlets.

The book explains the technical aspects of eBook production as well as advising on pricing, advertising and publishing law.



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Written by Tim Dawson

February 10th, 2016 at 6:14 am

Posted in E-books

Can eBooks save journalism?

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Recent trends in non-fiction eBook publishing, by Tim Dawson, originally published in the December 2013 edition of The Journalist.

Five years ago, Rupert Colley was a librarian in Enfield with a long-standing dream of creating a series of popular histories that could be consumed in sixty minutes.  After a decade puzzling how he might realise his plan, in the Autumn of 2009 he published a 10,000 word account of the Second World War as an eBook.  Today, his ‘History In An Hour’ imprint has sold over 250,000 bite-sized digests of everything from The Reformation, to Ancient Egypt and The Cold War.

“There have been times when it was manic, but the level of the success of the series has been overwhelming”, he says today.  “My hunch was that there was a real appetite for easily digestible histories, maybe in subject areas that people felt they ought to know about, or in anticipation of a holiday.  ‘History for busy people’ was the slogan I had in my head.”

He is by no means the only person who has found ways to harness the possibilities of eBooks.  Literary publicist Richard Foreman launched Endeavour Press with journalist Mathew Lynn a year and a half ago.  Specialising in genre fiction, history and collections of journalism, they produce eBooks at a rate of eight a week.  ‘Name’ journalists such as Simon Sebag-Montefiorie, Rachel Johnson and William Dalrymple and among their stable; and sales currently run at upwards of 15,000 books a month.

In the US, where the market for short eBooks, or long-form journalism, is more developed, several writers have earned more than £100,000 from ‘Singles’ – Amazon’s short book brand.  Mishka Shubaly, for example, scored an unexpected hit with Shipwrecked (Kindle Single), a true account of a near fatal yachting disaster that he could not fit for any of his regular magazine clients.  He has gone on to write several more successful Singles.

The success of these short eBooks appears to rest on three, related factors: a general thirst for shorter books; ‘cup-of-coffee’ pricing; and technology that brings writing, publishing and purchasing much closer together.

Traditional publishing contracts have tended to insist on 100,000 words for works of fiction and 150,000 for non-fiction – the length of eBooks is immaterial.  And, a little like the market for smart-phone apps, there appears to be a willingness to pay among consumers – so long as the price is negligible.  According to Amazon’s figures, nearly 75% cost $4.99 or less.  Authors typically receive 50 – 70% of the cover price of eBooks, and as the process from finished manuscript to product on sale can take less than an hour, it is easy to see the appeal.

The experience of Rupert Colley, however, suggests that you can’t necessarily expect riches the second that you add your work to Amazon’s vast catalogue, however.  “I started by putting up free-to-read articles on my website to generate some interest”, he explains.  “It took four months after I published my Second World War book before I sold a single copy, though”.  During that time he was busy building interest on his site and through social media.

A year later, however, sales were so strong that HarperCollins offered to buy him out, and retain him to run History In An Hour on behalf of the publishing giant.  Among the more surprising ways that professional backing has helped has been in the development of audio versions of his titles.  Consisting of an actor, reading an abbreviated version of the 10,000-word titles, the resulting products have sold tens of thousands through iTunes.

“Initially I just wrote about what interested me – that is why I did a lot of contemporary history titles,” says Colley.  “I also went with what people offered me – so long as they were competent writers.  Since HarperCollins involvement, I have become more anniversary-driven, but writers still get the same basic percentage of sales revenues”.

Endeavour’s ambitions are even larger.  Foreman happily contemplates the day when his imprint overtakes Penguin.  “We are selling to a global market – a third of our sales are in the US”, he says.  “Of course there is no reason why authors should not publish themselves – but we have expertise in marketing titles and working Amazon’s algorithms to maximum advantage”.  Their greatest success to date has been Foreman’s own, ‘Augustus Son Of Rome’, one of a series of novelisatons of Roman history.  It has sold 12,000 copies to date.  The publisher is also actively pursuing out-of-print works into which he can breathe new life.  AJP Taylor’s War By Timetable has been a recent success.

And Endeavour is not the only one combing back catalogues.  In the US, several publications are now actively republishing classic long-form journalism, among them the New York Review Of Books and The Atlantic.  The latter has been experimenting with eBooks since 2010, says Kimberly Lau, general manager of Atlantic Digital.  “Our focus has been to leverage assets that are unique to The Atlantic – generally best-in-class writing and editing.  Our audience has a seemingly endless appetite for high-quality content”.  Lau won’t disclose sales figures, but says that Daniel Rauch’s ‘Denial’ has ‘significantly exceeded original forecasts”.

The common thread through all of these successes, of course, is Amazon, the global behemoth from which 1.5m eBooks are available and through which 90% of eBook sales are sold.  There are alternatives, of course – iBooks, Nook and Smashwords, for example.  But whatever view you take of Amazon’s corporate practices, selling eBooks without them would be a hard slog.

The mechanism of self-publishing is childishly simple.  Set up an account at Kindle Direct Publishing, and upload a Microsoft Word file of your words – and the job is all but done.  Many of the biggest journalism-eBook-success stories, however, are ‘Kindle Singles’; long-form journalism, published by Amazon itself.  The series editor in the UK is Andrew Rosenheim, a novelist and former managing director of Penguin books.  He advertises that he will consider any original work, between 5,000 and 30,000 words in length as well as reviewing all material that is already published via KDP, with a view to adopting it as a Single.  The royalties split for the author does not change, if your work become a Single – generally speaking you receive 70% of the sale price.  Being a Single, does, however, mean that an eBook is given a lot more profile on Amazon.

Whether the mail-order giant will forever dominate eBook sales is impossible to know.  It would require a wholly unpredictable market shock to reverse the eBook tide, however.  Indeed, pretty much all publishing soothsayers predict that eBooks will be snatching market share from their ink-and-paper counterparts for the foreseeable future.  That may not be unqualified good news.  But for those journalists and writers who do exploit the advantages of ePublishing to sell their work, this a developing market of huge potential.


Written by Tim Dawson

January 4th, 2014 at 8:16 am

Posted in E-books,US

Offset opposition, the rise and fall of Britain’s alternative press

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Review, by Tim Dawson

The reappearance of Nigel Fountain’s ‘Underground, The Alternative Press 1966 – 1974’ as an eBook provides a timely moment to reflect on the clutch of magazines that he describes, and to ask whether they have any contemporary parallels?

His focus is the wave of publishing that grew up in the wake of Alan Ginsberg’s celebrated appearance at the Albert Hall in 1965.  Oz, International Times, Friendz and Black Dwarf and most of the other titles he describes did not survive much beyond the initial wave of enthusiasm that first spun them into orbit, but they did encapsulate the giddy moment of rebellion, self-expression and freedom that overtook at least one milieu in swinging London.

Fountain does not consider whether these titles and their staff can really be considered as linked phenomena.  His account of individuals swapping from magazine to magazine, learning in one place and applying the lessons elsewhere make this case for him, however.  Neither does the role of technology play an important part in his argument, although in his pithy phrase, ‘The IBM Golf Ball typewriter was the Kalashnikov of the guerrilla journalist’, he is on to a truth.  Offset litho printing and increasingly sophisticated typewriters were key to allowing the 1968 generation to find its voice in print.

As a piece of writing, it is a head-long rush, describing the events that shaped the scene as much as the publications itself.  As a giddy fast forward through the years in question, at least for the ‘turned on’ generation who emerged from the rapidly expanding university sector, it is a vivid picture that Fountain paints.  He is also good on the social changes that underpinned the scene – the arrival in London of baby boomers from the US and Australia and a cohort of grammar-school boys who were happy to side step the professions.

Writing in the mid-1980s, it is perhaps not surprising that the representation of, and work environment experienced by, women in the alternative print was at the front of Fountain’s mind.  Two decades on, the sexual revolution that It appeared to embody, in which women were expected to drop their prudish resistance to male demands, is an embarrassment brilliantly unpicked in this book.

At the time of his writing, Fountain could not have known that the City Limits on which he worked, as well as nearly everything recognisable as the alternative press of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s would have disappeared.  The 100 regular ‘alternative’ newspapers and magazines that mushroomed in the provinces disappeared in much the same moment – just as the internet was about to solve the problems of reproduction and distribution – if not income.

Tony Harcup, a long-time veteran of Leeds Other Paper and now a lecturer in Journalism at the University of Sheffield has had quarter of century longer to consider the question.  In Alternative Journalism, Alternative Voices (Routledge 2013, £24.99, also available as an eBook) he detects a number of factors behind the abrupt demise of the alternative scene – exhaustion after the left’s political and industrial defeats of the 1980s, a shifting journalistic focus from news to arts and music, and the departure of the individuals whose fuse had been lit during the 60s and 70s.

Harcup puts a good deal of leg work into finding a new generation of angry young pen slingers focusing on the underdog.  He unearths a couple of contenders, Indymedia, Manchester Mule, a news website with a familiar alternative beat, and Knee Deep in Shit, a Bradford-based publication that is currently in abeyance.  All share DNA with the litho-produced titles of decades ago, although it is hard to locate in them the scope, range and élan of their forebears.

Perhaps the truth is that new technology has brought with it a paradigm shift.  The alternative press was a DIY phenomenon inspired by a desire to reflect the world in a way that was quite different to the traditional media.  Today, the internet makes getting your message out there simple and cheap; the challenge now is to attract sufficient attention to legitimise your endeavors and to generate a sustaining income.  Perhaps given the infancy of online publishing, by comparison with its inky predecessor, it is not surprising that these are questions to which we are still awaiting answers.


Written by Tim Dawson

March 18th, 2013 at 7:25 am

The Writer’s Tale – Atwood surveys publishing revolution

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

Last week Canadian author Margaret Atwood came to London to collect one of the highest awards Britain can give a writer. Becoming a Companion of The Royal Society of Literature, an honour bestowed on only ten writers at any one time, brought Atwood’s collection of awards to 99 – a recognition of a lifetime of writing which, so far, has resulted in over 50 works of fiction, poetry and essays.

Atwood was, of course, suitably enlightening on the usual writer’s subjects, such as how she started, her writing routine (or lack of ), and the current state of western society. But where she is especially interesting is in her role as insider-observer of more than half a century of publishing, at at time of enormous change.

In that same period, Atwood went from being a six-year-old who stitched together her own paper books in the Canadian backwoods to a world-famous seventy-something author with a passion for things digital. She has chosen to sign up to Twitter at a time when her fame could easily have freed her from all such digi-drudgery. She even devised, a few years ago, LongPen, a signature device that enables authors to sign fans’ books remotely.

In a piece for the Guardian earlier this year, she defended writing-sharing website Wattpad as a place where new writers can try their wings. Then, in what seems like a supreme act of authorial generosity, she collaborated with a younger, less established author in writing a Zombie series for the site. Launched in October, each author is contributing a chapter until the story concludes in January 2013.

Wattpad ‘can enable writing in other places where it doesn’t exist or are two expensive,’ she told her RSL audience adding that, along with other online platforms for writers, ‘Byliner fills the role that was filled by magazines in the 1960s and 1970s’.

Doubtless, her enthusiasm for innovations that can bring writers and readers together stems from her early experiences as a writer. Despite, or perhaps because of a rather isolated childhood in the woods surrounded by books, Atwood determined, at the age of sixteen, to embark on a professional writing career. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time – there was no national literature in 1960s Canada and few places for a writer to publish, on any terms. But over the decades Atwood made her way, writing a significant part of a national literature in the process.

Her own lived experience of the transformation of publishing has, it seems, allowed her to adopt a sanguine view of the digital revolution: ‘A tree falls in the forest. Other trees grow,’ she told us serenely, adding: ‘Is paper going to go away anytime soon? Actually not.’

At the same time, in other forums, Atwood has kept her acute eye on the vexed question of how writers are to earn a crust, asking: ‘Who’s going to pay for the cheese sandwiches?’

Written by Alex

December 6th, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Inspired union: strategies for journalism to flourish

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Fiona Cullinan, Christian Payne and Lucia Adams

Conference report by Tim Dawson

NUJ freelances displayed an innovative range of strategies to survive and prosper at a one-day conference.  A capacity audience packed the event to hear from more than twenty speakers describing initiatives including: instant-video documentary making, selling into new foreign markets, self-publishing via Kindle, and creating iPad app publications.

Other novel funding sources and work models included crowd-funding foreign photographic assignments, working as a journalist on behalf of brands, cross-funding journalism with authoring corporate ‘white papers’ and, a number of successful co-operatively produced publications.

The event, organised by the London Freelance Branch, aided by the NUJ’s Freelance Office, was held at the London Welsh Centre on 17 November 2012.  Open to all, in excess of 200 people attended, more than half of them women, many of whom contributed to the lively event with their own questions and experiences.

Among the highlights was photographer, Guy Smallman, who has undertaken numerous assignments in Afghanistan, most self-funded.  By entering the country as a non-embedded journalist he has been able to cover stories that were not accessible to colleagues who worked more closely with the military.  The reputation that he has built as a result has more recently enabled him to source crowd-funding larger projects.

Christian Payne ( describes himself as a social technologist, multi-tasking communicator or blogger.  After a career as a staff and freelance photographer, he now blogs and makes video documentaries, some following his own interests, others as commercial assignments.

Payne’s total engagement with Twitter started when, after a car crash, he used the micro-blogging service to ask, ‘what do I do now?’  “It was the first point of using social channels when I wasn’t bragging about myself.  I showed some humility, made myself look an arse and loads of people came to my aid.  At that point I decided to embrace the networks and be a storymaker”, he said.

He subsequently made a video from photographs he had taken in Iraq.  When he realised that more people saw his pictures on YouTube than had seen the same photographs when they were published in national newspapers, he decided that he was on to something.  “Although I wasn’t being paid for my pictures, I was building this huge audience of people who were interested in me, and some of them started to offer me work”, he said.

Fiona Cullinan’s ( entré to blogging came during a slow spell while she had been booked to work for a contract publisher.  “I would suggest to every journalist that they blog – not necessarily to monetise what they are doing but as a digital playground and as a place to experiment and to show potential clients what you can do”, she said.  Using her blog as a hub, Cullinan started writing about how her working life was developing – particularly as subbing opportunities shrank.  Subsequently, six months emailing a digital agency where she wanted to work eventually bore fruit.

“Freelancing has been a rollercoaster – but it suits me”, said Hina Pandya (@hinapublish).  After a varied career, five years ago she decided to freelance full-time.  Since then, relentless networking and going with the flow of work have been her watchwords.  After becoming frustrated with commissioning editors who would not pay, she published her own travel guide as an eBook and said that sales, to date, have exceeded her expectations.  Commissioned by the Syfy tv channel to blog about a television program ‘Continum’, Pandya found that her related Tweets about the program gained a significant following.  The broadcaster subsequently agreed to pay her to publish in this way.  Her tips for aspirant freelances are to make pitches short and sharp, try to negotiate your fee upwards every time, and invest in your own training.

Huma Yusuf spoke about ‘Breaking the BRICs’ or the media markets in such emerging countries as Brazil, India, Russia and China.  “Media is booming in these countries”, she said.  “In India, newspaper sales are growing at a rate of 1.5% a year and the Times of India has a circulation of 4.3m”.  Much of the media is trying to operate 24/7 so there is a desperate thirst for content – particularly news about how their country is viewed abroad, how their countrymen conduct themselves or are perceived abroad or more general diaspora news.

To break into these markets, Yusuf suggested initially offering material to smaller titles – for example in India the magazines Caravan, the Far East Economic Review or Outlook.  With your reputation established in ‘the only market that matters – their own’, approaches can then be credibly made to larger titles such as The Times of India.  Happily, at least in the case of South Asia, editors tend to display their email addresses on their paper’s websites, and most are ‘addicted’ to social media.  Pay rates vary between $50 and $1,000 for 600 words.  The best way to up these rates, Yusuf suggested, is to offer ‘multi-media’ packages, as many Indian papers have very ‘snazzy websites’ that are perilously thin on content.

The issue of credibility in foreign markets was also addressed by Max Glaskin (@cyclingscience1).  Specialising in engineering and technology, 20 years ago he faxed his details to 150 US magazines.  The replies were few, but made clear that a ‘as a Limey he was unlikely to be able to understand the complexities of American culture’.  Six months later, however, he received a fax from ‘Biophotonics International’ seeking a European contributor.  With credibility established at one journal he picked up work from publications in the same stable – and was then able to use those contacts to leverage work on other US titles.

Work in south east Asia came via a friend who moved there, that Glaskin nagged for work.  When his pal moved on, Glaskin stuck with the title and then made himself known to his friend’s new publication.  “I never pitch stories”, he said.  “I simply let publications know that I am here and that I can supply them whatever they want, so long as it interests me.”  Once his reputation was made with one or two ex-pat journalists, word of his competence was passed around.

Examples discussed at the event varied between techniques that have allowed jobbing freelances to reach new clients and extend their workbase, and more substantial business ventures.  The magazine that Una Murphy edits in Belfast certainly falls into the latter category.  View is a free-to-download digital magazine serving Northern Ireland’s voluntary and community sector.  Set up with Brian Pelan, like Murphy, a 20-year media veteran, the monthly magazine received modest grant support to get it established, but now survives on advertising from suppliers to voluntary organisations.  It is now generating more than £2,000 a month in revenue and is well-established in its target market.

Mark Watts, editor-in-chief of subscription investigative news service, Exaro ( said that although the traditional media model is breaking down, opportunities are also being thrown up.  “The real enemy of journalism is not Leveson, but accountants”, he said.  “Accountants told us that churning copy was more profitable than real journalism, and they were behind the budget cuts at the BBC.  But all over the place real journalism enterprises are springing up to meet real-news needs – so freelances should keep their eyes open, and if you can’t see what you are looking for, maybe do it yourself”.  Watts did warn, however, that freelance looking for work at Exaro should obey the old rule – check out the product first – and make sure that they have the right range of skills, experience and contacts for investigative journalism.

David Boyle the author of The Case For Media Co-ops described several publications that have enjoyed success anew, having adopted a co-operative model. The West Highland Free Press, for example, was bought by its 13 employees in 2009.  Today, they pay themselves well and, after servicing debt, make a return of two per cent on capital.

Marlborough News Online, in Wiltshire, was established as a workers’ co-operative by four journalists.   Providing news for a town without a newspaper, it already generates sufficient revenue to employ all four members for one day a week each and is ‘on track’ to increase this to full times jobs within five years, said Boyle.

At Ethical Consumer magazine, declining advertising revenue threatened the business’ survival.  An appeal to readers, however, raised an investment of £200,000.  The readers are now the magazine’s owners and receive a four percent return on their outlay.  “In the conventional media, the number of titles and reporters is down and so are circulations – but there are outliers where they are proving that local readers do want local content”, said Boyle.  “The great benefit of co-ops is that young talent is in the boardroom from the start, because all staff are involved”.

Alex Klaushofer, co-author of Help Yourself: New ways to make copyright pay, and joint editor of this site, (@alexklaushofer) highlighted a number of trends.  There is life yet in print, she suggested, citing The Blizzard, a quarterly journal of long-form writing about football.  The jury is out on advertising, with profitable hyperlocal news publications such as the Filton Voice ( confounding predictions that the advertising model is definitively broken. Meanwhile, foundation and grant funding is supporting a range of new media from investigative heavy hitters ProPublica in the United States to village newsletter The Ambler, in Northumberland. But the States are considerably ahead of the UK in funding quality journalism, innovative practice and research into the changing media landscape, she observed.

Other initiatives mentioned at the event included Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s Downfall, the story of Glasgow Rangers’ recent travails that was spawned from a blog and has now sold more than 10,000 copies, the Berlin Newspaper Die Tageszeitung, which is owned by its 30,000 subscribers and The Bicycle Reader, a Kindle-only magazine whose first edition was produced with no capital and has already sold 1,000 copies.

Closing the conference, NUJ general secretary Michelle Stansistreet committed the NUJ to extending its services for freelance members.  “It is really clear to me that that this has been a fantastically useful day and as our industry is increasingly freelance, I know how important it is for you all to keep your skills up to date – but it is also good for me to hear from you what you need from the union”.  Stanistreet promised that contributions made during the day would inform the union’s work in the months to come.


Written by Tim Dawson

November 22nd, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Kindling for beginners: notes from a non-digital native

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Kindling for beginners. Humphrey Evans
Inspired by a case study in our recent ebooklet on New Ways to Make Copyright Pay, self-confessed non-techy Humphrey Evans launched himself into the Kindle world. In the letter below, he documents the nitty-gritty of his experience.

Dear Alex,

You asked about the learning points of my Kindle experience. I’ve just finished putting up another couple of titles in the Kindle Store, my fourth and fifth.

They’re the collected pieces I wrote for the Chief Sub column in the NUJ magazine the Journalist, plus a few more. The reason for two is that I split the material (about 20,000 words in all), at quite a late stage, when I realised I could put a price of around £3 on each, rather than, say, a more off-putting £5 for a combined book.

I made of note of time spent, and problems encountered.

The biggest problem, at least the one that put the biggest delay in the process, was completely unexpected. After I’d gone through the complete preparation and uploading process, Kindle queried whether I actually had to right to publish the material – on the grounds that much of it was widely available on the web. It turned out that they were basically seeing my own website, where I had put up much of the material.

It took a long, detailed email and a two day delay to sort this out. It’s worth bearing in mind for anyone else pulling together material that has already been published on the internet. Kindle doesn’t seem to be bothered by the idea of republishing material; what it is worried about is becoming the battleground for some copyright dispute.

The main problem, for someone who is not very technical, is of being on edge the whole time. It seems so easy to make a major mistake – at one point I found I still had the entire 20,000 words in one book, when I thought I’d cut 10,000 out when splitting it.

The Kindle manual is good in that it is comprehensive and exact, and the Kindle website interface is good, but there are still moments when you have to work out what it is that a computery person expects you to do next.

I’ve given myself an extra problem because, although I could do the main editing on my normal computer, with a large screen, I had to use a netbook to do the covers and the Kindle process because that’s where I’ve got Microsoft Office 2010, which includes the Paint programme for the covers. That means using a touchpad instead of a mouse, which I would never recommend for fiddly work.

The basic editing of the 20,000 words took about two days. That’s collecting and arranging the various articles into one file and splitting it, making all the headings and intros roughly the same length, providing material for the title page, copyright notice and so on, giving it a final read for sense and proofreading it. This would have to be done whatever route you would be taking into publication.

Next came styling it up typographically, which took about half a day. On top of that was something like an hour establishing the two Contents lists.

Then came the covers. They are just typographic, which is as cheap as it comes and shows up brilliantly well in the small sizes of Kindle listings. I could do these in Paint, which comes free, bundled up in Microsoft Office 2010. It is an irritating programme, because it doesn’t allow you to go back and make corrections, or to establish a template (did I mention it is cheap?). If you want to resize one element after you see how it is working with another, you have to scrap what you have done and start again from scratch. Anyway, it took me about an hour to do the two.

The final Kindle stage, working my way through the Kindle website interface, took exactly 45 minutes to do the two. You then have to wait about 12 hours for them to go on sale live.

It is interesting, pulling together these bits and pieces which otherwise would probably have no further life – I could never see this Chief Sub material making a printed book, for example, although I have used it when teaching.

As to money, I will let you know what happens.

Best wishes,


Humphrey Evans’ Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors and other titles are available here.

Written by Alex

October 1st, 2012 at 5:12 am

Perfect pitch – publisher invites the public to vote with their wallets

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Mitchinson: funding revolution

Case study by Tim Dawson

“The books industry has been very poor at getting money off people who love its products”, says John Mitchinson, the founder of crowd-funded publisher Unbound.  He promises to revolutionise both the financing of book production and the relationship between authors and readers; and over the past year has raised enough money from online pledges to turn 18 ideas into ‘beautifully produced volumes’.

The idea is simple.  Author’s take their ideas to Unbound, which is run by Mitchinson, Dan Kieran and Justin Pollard, who between them have considerable track records in publishing, book selling and writing.  Pitches for ideas that Unbound like are posted up on their website with an invitation to those who are interested to pledge financial support.  This can range from £10, in return for a digital copy of the book with the supporters name listed in the back, to £20 for a hardback edition and a supporter listing, to £150 in return for a book, various goodies and a lunch with the author.

At the moment, the potential books featured – 50 have gone up so far – are by established writers, or people with a pre-existing profile.  “Many are attracted to us because they have become so jaded with the traditional publisher/author relationship”, says Mitchinson.  “Others want to pursue projects that are a bit left-field for their existing publishers”.   At the point that a book is accepted costings are agreed for the production and marketing of the book, as well as the time that the author is willing to put into promotion.  Once these costs are recovered, profit is split 50:50 between Unbound and author.

The appeal for writers – and Stephen Fry, Robert Llewellyn and Terry Jones are among those who have signed up – is that they get significantly more control of their end product.  They are also able to develop a direct relationship with readers – indeed, some offer sponsors such opportunities as having characters in books named after them.

In the year since it launched, Unbound has attracted 24,000 registered users, around 70% of whom have pledged to support projects, with an average pledge value of £32.  Although the typical time to fund books has been six months, not the expected three, Mitchinson says that his model is viable, and expects to be in profit in year two.  “Its not quite a full-time job for us yet, we do need to work elsewhere to make a living but it pays us a small amount, and we have not fallen over so far”, he says.  With proof-of-concept under their belts, the founders will be seeking further funding towards the end of the year.

Mitchinson’s hope is that, in time, it will be possible for unpublished authors to pitch on their site.  For now, however, he thinks there is value in their ‘curation’ of the projects to which they give visibility, as well as the editing, designing and marketing familiar from traditional publishing houses.

Unbound has also diversified into live events where authors pitch in front of an actual crowd.  Some have even deployed highly theatrical devices – one appeared in pajama bottoms and a gas mask to perform a wordless routine of aerial acrobatics.  “I am painfully aware that there are some great authors who will never be comfortable in front of an audience”, Mitchinson accepts.  “Some love it though and the events have worked very well in terms of brining in pledges”.  Plans for ten further events will be unveiled in the next few weeks.

All of which amounts to a genuinely innovative boutique-approach to publishing that, in return for cash, promises reader and authors a richer experience.  Quite possibly, in the remorseless shift to ebooks, the market for an enhanced-value reading opportunities will be considerable.  Will history judge Unbound’s crowd-funding to be a paradigm shift that overtook publishing in the early years of twenty first century?  As the Chinese communist leader Zhou Enlai is reputed to have said of the significance of the French Revolution, “It is too soon to say”.


Written by Tim Dawson

September 11th, 2012 at 3:08 pm

OUT NOW: Free ebooklet for writers from New Model Journalism

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By Alex Klaushofer.

Against the background of change and struggle that has afflicted the media and publishing in recent years, one strand of good news has consistently emerged. This good news story of the crisis in journalism tells of innovation and experimentation, of pioneering practices and the opening up of new frontiers, as writers of all kinds develop cutting-edge models to sustain quality work.

So we’re pleased to have the opportunity to gather together some of the best, and most distinctive, examples of this pioneering trend. Some of the case studies, such as Disability News Service and iPad magazine Sail Racing, are updates on initiatives we’ve been tracking for a while. It’s been great to see them going from strength to strength, refining their models as they do so.

Other experiments, such as community newspaper The Ambler or author Simon Winchester’s enhanced app Skulls, are new to us or have received little coverage in the British media press. Most are working as individuals or in small groups, and all are entrepreneurial – but not relentlessly so. Some are combining their new projects with other ambitions or commitments, fitting them into their own temperaments and particular circumstances. In every case, the innovators share the lessons learnt (so far), details of the nuts and bolts of their models, and offer ideas on how their models might be replicated by others.

The forthcoming e-pamphlet has been generously sponsored by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society and supported by the NUJ. Freely available to members of both organisations, it is effectively a gift to the writing community. The hope is that readers will draw both inspiration and practical advice from its contents.

‘Help yourself: New ways to make copyright pay’, is available here.

Written by Alex

July 2nd, 2012 at 6:13 am

Self-published reporting: journalism’s next frontier

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Interview by Alex Klaushofer.

Marc Herman couldn’t have been more surprised by the success of his Kindle Single The Shores of Tripoli.

‘The interest in the topic completely shocks me,’ he says. ‘I went over there to talk about Libya, and ended up being seen as something of an expert in electronic publishing.’

Within weeks, the book was in the top 300 of Amazon’s rankings, and Herman was being sought after as a speaker – not about inside story of Libya – but about the nuts and bolts of writing a short, journalistic book and selling it direct to readers via Amazon.

The deal, which was arranged with by his agent, gets Herman a royalty of 70% on a publication priced at $1.99.

‘That’s a fair price,’ he says. ‘I don’t expect someone to spend more for one story than an entire magazine. You can sell 99c bagels or entrees at $30. My tendency is to sell bagels.’

The ‘bagel approach’, as we might now call it, has obvious attractions for a time-poor but world-curious reader with only a couple of hours to spend reading about a conflict in a far-off country.

For the journalist, Herman thinks he has discovered the makings of a model that – while not being able to fund an entire living – forms a viable element of a portfolio of projects covering foreign stories. Three months after publication, the book has earned out its research costs and, with new sales every day, is now paying its writer a retrospective wage.

At the same time, the simplicity of the new publishing model is refreshing after the rigours of traditional publishing: ‘We didn’t have to hack our way through New York or London,’ says Herman. ‘A lot of the appeal is that it’s an alternative publishing culture you can try.’

Yet, while journalists are desperately seeking new ways of funding their reporting, and the publishing world is conducting a lively conversation about the implications of going digital, Herman doesn’t see much dialogue between the two: ‘It feels a bit like the right and the left hand are not communicating with each other.’

So could his success herald a new breed of journalists working entirely independently, as growing numbers of authors are now doing?

Herman doesn’t see much future in a journalist going it entirely alone. ‘I’m not sure it’s necessarily going to produce good journalism, because you can’t do everything at the same time,’ he says. ‘I think it’s more likely that small groups get together to work in teams – that’s really exciting.’

From his base in Barcelona, he is already working with another two other journalists on a documentary project looking at the youth unemployment in Spain, which is now approaching 50%. In line with the trend towards ‘enhanced books’, the project will be multi-media, offering readers pictures and a video as part of the package.

He anticipates that, in time, the group will become a kind of coop along the lines of the small agencies formed by photographers when they realised they were better working together rather than (competitively) alone.

And, as the models of digital publishing get more established, creators will need to protect their interests in the face of giants such as Amazon, he adds.

In the meantime, it’s clear that these pioneering days carry all the excitements and disappointments of experiments in early air travel:

‘I feel like I’m in the films of all those people who were trying to invent aeroplanes before the Wright brothers, and struggled to get them off the ground. I’m one of those guys.’

Written by Alex

March 5th, 2012 at 7:29 am

Posted in E-books,News,Niche

Exact Editions’ digital magazines are real page turners

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Report by Tim Dawson.

Global shipments of tablet computers reached 26.8 million units during the fourth quarter of 2011 – 150 per cent up on the same quarter the preceding year.  And according to one survey, 71% of tablet owners are interested in using their devices to consume magazines, so it is easy to see why publishers are racing into the digital market place.

Some, such as largest, Zinio, deal mainly with major publishing houses.  Others, like London-based Exact Editions, have made a virtue of bringing independently published magazines to the digital marketplace, as well as allowing them to be consumed on multiple platforms.

Launched in 2006, the company now sells digital editions of more than 120 magazines – mostly in English and originating in the UK, although it has an expanding stable of titles in French and from Australia and Ireland.  There are many household names in their stable, such as The Spectator, Le Monde Diplomatique, FourFourTwo and Burke’s Peerage, as well a fair number of more niche titles.

“Publishers give us an unvectorised pdf and we do the rest”, explains managing director Daryl Rayner.  “Subscribers can then access a publication to which they subscribe either online – although it still feels like a magazine, or via an iTunes subscription, or via a branded iPad/iPhone app”.  It is also possible to download pdfs of magazines, and for academic institutions to take out site licences that allow publications to be read throughout their libraries.

The end product looks and feels like a magazine, with flippable pages.

In most cases, publishers offer digital subscribers access to all or part of their back catalogue which, because of the way that Exact Editions digitise their content, is searchable.  For those who subscribe to multiple titles though Exact Editions, it is even possible to apply search queries to more than one magazine catalogue at a time.

Subscription pricing is left to publishers, although Rayner advise is that they should charge around 20 per cent less than a traditional print sub.  Of the receipts, Exact Editions take 20 per cent commission, and on subscriptions sold within the EU, VAT is generally chargeable.  Subscriptions taken out though the iStore come to Exact Editions less the 30 per cent commission taken by Apple.

Apple now allows those taking out subscriptions to voluntarily share their personal details with publishers, and Rayner says that a significant number are now doing so.  In the case of subscriptions taken out directly with Exact Editions, they are owned by the original publishers, who receive the full details of all subscribers.

Publishers also have access to a portal that gives them real-time, downloadable data relating to subscription activity.

To date, all but one of Exact Editions’ titles are print magazines that wish to create a digital edition.  Rayner does not rule out publishing digital-only magazines.

She won’t be drawn on specific metrics either for the scale of her company or sales units, save to say that app subscriptions have ‘taken off dramatically’ during the last quarter.  The level of most digital subscriptions is in proportion with the size of the print magazine, she says, although one or two, such at Arsenal magazine The Gooner, have reached new international audiences that they had hitherto failed to penetrate.

The editor of one niche interest magazine that publishes through Exact Editions sells around one fifth of his subscriptions digitally, after several years with Exact Editions – for whom he is full of praise.  But the rise in digital subs has largely been matched by a fall in paper subs, he points out.

“I suspect that our paper product will disappear altogether in a year or so and we will go 100 per cent digital.  Whether that will be on the Exact Editions model, however, I don’t know.  I am considering turning our product into a free-to-download pdf that pays for itself through advertising – particularly as our advertising revenue and our international copying royalties have done will in recent years.”

Clearly, Exact Editions has made a good fist of riding out the last five years, and as the digital subscriptions market continues to grow exponentially, well-placed and innovative providers of this kind seem set to thrive.  As the editor above comments suggest, second-guessing which digital publishing model will survive and thrive is not easy.  And what shape the industry will be in by the time that this market starts to consolidate, of course, is impossible to tell.


Written by Tim Dawson

February 28th, 2012 at 6:57 am

Posted in E-books,iPad apps