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Unbound founder, Dan Kieran, talks crowdfunding books

Dan Kieran was one of three writers who founded crowdfunding publishing sensation, Unbound, in 2011. Since then this platform has gone on to take some very big name authors away from the more traditional publishing routes. We catch-up with him to learn more.

When you launched Unbound, four years ago in May, you were at the start of something brand new. Now crowdfunding is more far recognised and accepted have you noticed a change in the type of authors and pledgers you’re attracting?

Yes, absolutely. From the outset we designed Unbound to appeal to established authors who were interested in having a more sustainable career; for example, Terry Jones. The interest from big name authors has definitely grown since then however. Publishing the global hit Letters of Note and the Man Booker Longlisted The Wake has also made it clear to authors that we can deliver commercial and critical hits.

Overall you do seem to attract quite a few established writers who would be able to get published easily by conventional methods (such as Raymond Briggs and Kate Mosse) – some might feel this trend slightly undermines the wider benefits of your site for authors. What is your take? Do these authors bring different works for your site or do they just help raise the bar for everyone?

Thanks for the opportunity to clear this up. Unbound exists to help authors earn more money and readers to have a voice in terms of which books are published. The ‘conventional’ publishing method you mention is where authors reach their audience via a book retailer. Authors access that market by getting a publisher to publish their work or, more recently, by self-publishing via Amazon too. The problem is that the average price paid for a book by that conventional method (either a high street or online book retailer) has fallen to around £5 ($8).

Unbound is a whole new marketplace for authors where the average price paid is £45 ($70), nine times more than the average price paid for a book in a shop. So if you are an author and you use Unbound you get access to the new marketplace as well as the conventional one. As we have already built a reputation for publishing excellence our authors also have the reassurance that their book will be produced to the highest quality. More and more authors now see the potential in getting Unbound to publish their work, whether they are a first time writer or an established name. Readers get far more than a conventional book too, including their name printed in the back of the book they support.

What do you think of new sites crowdfunding book sites like Readership Books which are attracting a lot of press attention – integration with Mimecast was an extremely interesting idea - but don’t necessarily seem to be going anywhere?

Crowdfunding has become very popular and publishing is a very traditional industry so you can see why more and more people are trying to combine the two. Publishing is very difficult however; publishers add a huge amount to the process of developing an author’s work and getting that author market visibility. It’s very hard to do that from a purely technical point of view. Authors are people, and don’t fit into algorithms very easily!

What other online publishers do you think are doing interesting, innovative work at the moment? Why?

You get lots of startups doing interesting things, but if they are not solving issues authors and readers have with the current model then it’s hard to make a difference. 

Unbound is UK focused at present, do you have concrete a plan to tackle American cities?

Of course we have aspirations to launch in the US and are working on that at the moment.

How has engagement on the site developed? Are most people visiting from the UK?

We have always had a very international audience - our user base is mainly the UK and US.

What other unique forms of digital publishing do you think we’ll see emerging over the next four years?

In my view a publisher’s job is not just to make and sell books but to create platforms that harness the energy you get when bringing creative people and their audiences together. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re constantly having to evolve our sense of what a publisher is today by listening to what authors and readers want. I imagine - and hope - this trend will continue. I think people are getting sick and tired of passively consuming. They want to curate their own experience. Publishing platforms that facilitate that will benefit. 

Do you think the development of publishing will continue to surprise people? Or has it reached a plateau?

Publishing will continue to evolve, especially now that authors and readers are taking an interest in parts of the process that they have traditionally been kept away from. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be in publishing.



Additional reading:

Crowdfunding: Review of Readership books

Report: The Interactive eBooks Revolution - A Tristram Shandy approach to education, literature & publishing?

Infographic: The Future of eBooks

eBooks: Education, larger print & society

eBooks: Multiple tiers of half-hearted luddites


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