Going Beyond Amazon: A New Model for Authors, Retailers, and Publishers

As many of you know, I have a keen interest in the future of digital publishing.

One of the reasons we started FG Press was to give control and transparency back to the authors. Specifically, at FG Press the author gets 50% royalty on all books sold (up from the traditional 15%) and we employ the latest technologies, promotions, and marketing efforts to help the author build a personal audience who they have a direct relationship with. Ultimately, we want to create the foundation for how future long-form content (e.g. books) will be created and consumed as well as how the connections between reader and author will be established and managed.

But what about sales and distribution? It’s not enough to create great content. It’s equally important to get the content into the hands of avid readers. And, from our perspective, link the readers to the authors.

Right now, most readers purchase their ebooks from Amazon. But as Amazon battles Hachette and others, this could change. Amazon has no incentive to move away from their centralized online store where they own the consumer/reader and the data.

As an author, I’ve found Amazon’s lack of transparency on data to be frustrating. I can blame some of this on the traditional publisher, but given what could be possible, everyone falls short. As a reader, I find the lack of connection with the author infuriating. I know some authors don’t want to be bothered, but for the one’s who do, I’d love to interact with them directly. And, as an author who loves to hear from and interact with his readers, I often want to scream when I am confronted with the wall that is “the publishing industry.”

We’ve explored many different approaches. There are hundreds of startups working on a wide variety of things, many of which we are systematically incorporating into our infrastructure at FG Press. I’ve used some of them for my Startup Revolution series with many more coming now that we have a manageable way to deploy them, and a team to make it happen, versus just me in my spare time, which is basically non-existent.

One of these approaches is BookShout, a technology platform which can allow “any site to become a bookstore.” With iOS, Android, HTML5, and web apps, BookShout has created technology to power the sales and distribution of ebooks from nearly any site. It allows authors and retailers to do things that are difficult to do in the current publishing ecosystem, including:

  • maintain brand identity
  • generate more revenue
  • build direct consumer relationships and like-minded communities

BookShout has also taken the additional step to make sure the content is connected and the distribution is social. As BookShout CEO Jason Illian often says, “Content is king, but viral, connected content is King Kong.”

BookShout’s unique implementation allows every brand or author to use Twitter, Facebook, and other technologies to build audience and naturally stimulate re-occurring purchases and interaction. As an example, not only could Ben Horowitz sell his great book The Hard Thing about Hard Things from the A16Z site (beyond just a banner ad that clicks through to a landing page with a link to Amazon and other places to buy the book), he could also leave notes and create conversations with readers, allow those readers to invite others into the fold, and create new offers and promotions for his next book.

If an e-retailer wants to sell ebooks alongside any of their products on their own site, they can now do so with Bookshout. If a media company wants all of their largest brands to provide ebooks, each brand can build its own community and stay connected around ebooks. If a bestselling author wants to sell her next book from her own site, she now has the tools to generate more revenue and build an audience. Ebay, Urban Outfitters, Nike, James Patterson, NPR, Walmart, Alibaba – they can now each control their own future.

I’m not an investor in BookShout, but I’m a fan and I believe they are on to something big. Look for more from them, and more from us with them.

  • Jon Christensen

    As a reader, I love the idea of being better connected to authors and getting them more of the pie. But one of the most important things to me is the reader software and bookshelf software. I want a bookshelf that lives in the cloud that I can trust will still be there in 5-10 years and doesn’t require extra steps to get books into it after they are purchased and I want a reader app on par with either the kindle or iBooks readers in terms of features. I think I’m not alone in these being key purchasing indicators for me. So as long as these two needs are met, I’m happy to go off Amazon for book purchases.

    • Bookshelf – should be great with Bookshout although no one can guarantee 5-10 years from now what will happen.

      Reader – I think Bookshout’s readers are great.

  • christophjaggi

    You might want to have a look at Folium Partners. Their Book Studio solves the other part of the equation: It simplifies authoring and creates optimized files for the readers that people are used to, including iBook and Kindle)

  • Another startup to check out here is Authorgraph, (https://www.authorgraph.com/), started by a good friend of mine here in Seattle, Evan Jacobs. At it’s core is the technology allowing authors to sign e-books for readers, giving them a way to connect on a more personal level. It’s now going deeper than that and providing tools and insights for authors with a goal of helping them better understand their readership. Let me know if you want to connect with Evan!

  • Brad, this is timely, because I just finally started writing my first book, but I am using a very cool open source platform and loving it. It comes with a built in publishing desktop tool that uses Markdown for writing, has publishing in all formats built in and it makes complete sense to me so far. The site allows you to publish and see in their library, but you can take the books anywhere you want. Since this is my first book, I’d like to see what experienced authors think of it nad what it’s missing. So far for me, it’s brilliant and it’s free: https://www.gitbook.io/

  • Your work is so very true and consistent with what is happening now it gives many people the most useful information.
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  • Have you taken a look at Zola Books (zolabooks.com)? They are working on a lot of what you mention here. Founded a few years ago.

  • Dave Cass

    The “Publishing Wall” is even more pronounced for textbooks. As an author (and a teacher) students should have access to an author (who is usually a professor) and I found they couldn’t if I went the traditional publishing route. Furthermore, I was also told by a large publisher that I could not put content online (in video form) if I signed with them. So I started what is now an ed tech company, Uvize originally just to sell textbooks directly to schools at a low price and subsequently turned the content into a service for schools out of sheer frustration with the archaic publishing industry Brad describes. Interesting enough (at least I think it is) this blog connects a few dots for me. Jason Illian provided my team and I with a wonderful mentor meeting during Techstars-Kaplan last summer and told me “content is your secret sauce” and gave me access to contact him anytime with further advice, FG Angels is now an investor, and Brad’s partner Jason was one of the readers of my original manuscript. I don’t have a point, just thought I’d share.

  • amitgoel1287

    Publishing industry is undergoing changes with small steps. it needs to get revolutionized. Everyone talks about book segment and no one actually talks about casual content. Authors write for maagzines too. and we took a different approach towards magazines by unbundling the whole content and making individual articles available for sale for really low costs (few cents per article) .. you can check it at https://patterbuzz.com

  • This is the most exciting time in history to be an author. Tools like Bookshout and new publishers like FG Press give writers (like me!) the tools we need to connect with readers in ways that were never possible before. These new technologies and business models are fascinating because they allow stories to take new forms and storytellers to experiment. My personal experience is that it’s actually taking us back to an earlier time, a time when the best tales were woven around campfires and your audience sat right there with you. If Amazon OR Hatchette or anyone else continue to build walls between writers and readers, they will only end up hamstringing themselves. At the end of the day, people want good stories. Writers and publishers finding success today (and tomorrow) are doubling down on building those connections, not trying to sever them. Thanks for leading the charge Brad, it means the world to me as a writer AND a reader.

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