Patronage 3.0: Create-on-Demand

MCMFriday, June 12, 2009

I am a few days away from fully re-launching 1889 Books in its 3.0 form, a large part of which is ditching downloadable PDFs in favour of something a little bit cooler. Doing that isn't a business decision, but it got me thinking about my business. Or lack thereof. And a big part of where my mind is going is the issue of patronage, and perhaps switching my model on its head.

Here's the theory: on the 1889 Books site, there'd be a list of "potential titles". These are books that I'd LIKE to produce, and WILL produce... eventually. Each book would have a little pitch (much like you'd do for a publisher), and an estimate of length/delivery time. Upon browsing this list, you (the reader) would become enthusiastic about "Typhoon", and really want to see it made. There'd be a little button next to the title that would bring you to PayPal, where you could pre-purchase it for some low amount. Let's say $10. After you purchase, a little progress bar next to the book creeps forward.

Now me, back in my bat cave, I'm watching this progress bar. I'm probably working on book #4, thinking to myself: "What's next, once this one's done?" (or more likely: "I need to procrastinate... what other title should I procrastinate with?") I will of course pick the book with the fullest progress bar. When the book's all done, I will send out final print-ready PDFs to all the people who pre-purchased, one month before the launch date. So if you pre-purchase, you get something for your trouble. And there'd be a special thanks page in the book with a list of all the patrons. Because they'd be super-cool people.

Now let's say I end up releasing "Typhoon" before the progress bar hits the end of the line. No problem! The progress bar carries forward onto the title's listing, with the same "support" feature. You can still buy it, get the print-ready PDF, and be added to the thanks page. And the progress bar keeps on growing. Because there's a special feature here I've been holding back...

EVERY title at 1889 Books will have one of these progress bars. Once they reach the end of the line, I will consider the "advance" on the book paid, and I will switch the license from CC-NC-SA to CC0. Public domain. Ready for action. Fun in the sun, baby!

Granted, I'll still sell the CC0-versions of the books wherever I can... but I figure if the public pays my asking price for a book, I'm kinda obligated to hand the public that work when I'm done. It's only fair.

From then on, I'd do the work that was requested by my audience. If there was nothing urgent, I'd work on whatever I like. And ideally, within a few years of this model, I'll have added a bunch of very contemporary books to the public domain.

I'm not sure if it works, but it might be worth a shot. Anyone have any thoughts? Email or comment. I'll think about it over the weekend.

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