Crowdfunding: An Interview with Unbound
Crowdfunding is a method of funding a project by pitching an idea in the hope of raising small amounts of money from lots of people, typically online. It’s erupted as an initiative in the last couple of years. We’re exploring why this has happened as well as the effect it’s having on the publishing industry and self-publishing.
In the first of our articles on crowdfunding, we spoke to Justin Pollard, from the creative industries’ crowdfunding platform, Unbound Digital. As someone who knew relatively little about crowdfunding prior to starting my research, Justin’s answers proved incredibly helpful, pinpointing the reasons behind crowdfunding’s increasing popularity and defining its relationship to indie publishing.
Unbound relies on authors pitching their ideas, much the same as they would do to a traditional publisher. If an idea proves popular enough with readers, it will be published by Unbound. They describe themselves as ‘both a funding platform and a publisher, fulfilling all the normal publishing functions but also splitting a book’s net profit 50/50 with the author.’ Authors whose ideas prove popular receive insight into the writing process and are listed as a patron in all of their own books. Seems like a pretty simple idea, and one that’s definitely taking off. But is there more to it than that?
R: How do you think sites like Unbound are changing the publishing industry?
J: I hope Unbound is helping to remove some of the gatekeepers from publishing. Traditionally, and certainly when I started out as an author, you needed to find an agent, which wasn’t easy if you weren’t already a known author. Then they needed to find a publisher for your idea who was interested in taking it. Even then, you were only just beginning. With the book published, how did you let people know it was out? Publicity budgets have never been high and often you had to do most of it yourself. More worryingly, your publisher had no idea who your real audience was – they just sold books to retailers, and even retailers often seemed to not have much data on who bought which books. With crowdfunding online, things are very different. The authors still do the vast bulk of the heavy lifting in terms of finding and communicating with prospective buyers but they are finding their end users – people who love their work and want to support them – so it’s worth all the effort. When authors know their readers and readers can have a real interaction with authors, then I think we might be getting somewhere. That’s where I hope we’ll change publishing.
R: In effect then, you see crowdfunding as a method of content curation, which it absolutely is. I hadn’t thought of crowdfunding from the consumers’ perspective before, but it is such a useful tool for them as well as for authors.
R: In your opinion, why are we seeing such a rise in popularity of people attempting to crowdfund creative projects?
Partly, the answer is simply cultural and technological. When we started Unbound we spent most of our time explaining what crowdfunding was – despite the fact that it’s actually, in publishing terms, a very old model – subscription. Now the term is much better understood and people inherently know what you’re offering. Technologically, we’ve also come a long way. When we started we had a real job persuading credit card companies to let us use their online services as they didn’t know what crowdfunding was. There are now a lot of very good online merchant solutions so that problem has gone away allowing more crowdfunders to enter the market. Finally, the creatives who make these projects have realised that they can crowdfund easily online as you don’t need lots of technical skills. They’ve also realised that it’s up to them to find their audiences online, not leave it to old fashioned types of publishing and PR. The great advantage of this is they’re finding their end-users, the people who love their work, and once they’ve found them it’s often the start of a long and very productive relationship.
R: Do you think crowdfunding offers other advantages, rather than just the obvious possibility of raising the funds required for a project?
J: Fundamentally I think the great joy of crowdfunding is that it’s the start of something, not the end. It’s absolutely not about just asking people for cash then walking off. It’s hard work as an author to go out and try to tell people online about your idea. You have to sell yourself, persuade friends and relatives to back you and pass on the word. It’s quite exposing and it’s often tempting to think “wouldn’t it be great if someone could do all this PR stuff for me so I can just write?”. But people crowdfund you because they want to support you; they want to hear how it’s going, they feel your triumphs and frustrations. They enjoy not just handing cash over to a faceless conglomerate. They’re funding you. Manage that relationship well and they’ll be back for you next project and the one after that. So you’re not just getting a £10 pledge. You could be getting a pledge to help keep you writing for the rest of your career. That’s something to nurture and treasure.
R: Thank you so much for your time and for shedding some light on crowdfunding and its relevance to self-publishing.
Justin is Unbound’s Creative Director. He is also an esteemed columnist, historical consultant for TV and the big screen, and a prolific author. It’s fair to say that he knows his stuff about writing and publishing.
If you’d like to know more then you can get in touch with @Unbounders on Twitter.