By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘Time To Open the Floodgates’Something you may hear about at the London Book Fair is the launch of a new platform for self-publishing. It’s actually the English-language edition of a well-tested Swedish site from Bonnier, Type & Tell.
Some publishing corporations have acquired existing self-publishing services—as in Macmillan’s purchase last year of Pronoun in the States. Bonnier’s team has created its own self-publishing platform with interesting distinctions.
Led by Bonnier Books Ventures chief Rebecka Leffler, Type & Tell’s initial Swedish site has been quietly growing longer than you may think, since autumn 2015. The English edition of the site is launching during LBF, and you’ll find the Type & Tell stand at 1F50E.
And on the Swedish site, we get a sense for an interesting conceptual basis for the platform, as we read:
“We live in a country where freedom of expression is every individual’s right. But what is the state of press freedom?
“Anyone can publish a book? According to us, yes!…The time when only a handful of publishers decided what we read and what stories reached us is past.
“It’s time to open the floodgates for all the hidden stories out there. Now we are democratizing literature.”
This is an interestingly forthright statement. One of the world’s largest publishing powers is openly positioning its own self-publishing platform as somewhat subversive, disruptive to its own dominance.
Such is the kind of thinking you find in many of Bonnier’s leaders, a willingness to challenge assumptions.
What will really grab the attention of Author HQ at London Book Fair, however, is the new platform’s royalty rates: 100 percent to the author. This is because what Type & Tell sells is a large suite of services, à la carte—from mailing out 10 review copies to metadata optimization and a professional author photo.
On the approach to the fair, Publishing Perspectives has had a chance to put some questions to Jon Watt, the country manager leading the UK wing of Type & Tell.
‘The Great Democratization of Publishing’
Publishing Perspectives: Why now? With so many elements of Bonnier’s highly regarded presence in trade publishing, why is this the time for the arrival of Type & Tell?
Jon Watt: In January, Bonnier Books launched a new division, Bonnier Books Ventures, dedicated to exploring, funding and developing new content platforms.
This universal approach to publishing and IP is a crucial component of our goal of helping authors’ content go further. Type & Tell is the first UK start-up to be launched by Bonnier Books Ventures and we’ve used the resources and skills available at Bonnier to create a completely new online self-publishing platform for the UK.
Type & Tell’s aim is to provide affordable, professional publishing services and support to anyone who wants to publish a book.
PP: We’re interested in your explanatory material’s freedom-of-expression factor.
JW: Absolutely. It’s the great democratization of publishing. Anyone can and should be able to publish a book. Type & Tell simply offers the tools to create professional-looking books and to make them available in markets around the world. It’s not for us to decide what gets published–we leave that to the market.
PP: What’s the timeline on the launch of the site in its different iterations? And are you getting the reception and interest you’d hoped for?
“The UK has a mature self-publishing market but it’s also a fast-changing market and we’ve found that writers, authors, and businesses welcome a new approach.”Jon Watt
JW: Type & Tell was launched in Sweden in September 2015 and user numbers have been steadily growing.
The UK service is launching at London Book Fair and will be in beta for a time as we learn from our users and develop new technologies.
In terms of reception, it’s been enormously positive. The UK has a mature self-publishing market but it’s also a fast-changing market and we’ve found that writers, authors, and businesses welcome a new approach. Writers’ expectations are changing and new technology can bring new possibilities for making content go further and earn more.
PP: Type & Tell has an unusually granular menu of services for users to choose from. Which of them are being used the most? Do you find, for example, that the authors coming to Type & Tell understand the importance of marketing? Are they taking advantage of the review-mailing service? Do they go for a good author photo? And how about the ebook/digital offers?—are they taking advantage of them or just going for print?
“With ebooks in particular, self-publishing authors don’t just have parity with traditional published authors, they have the advantage. Self-publishing authors retain control of their own price levers.”Jon Watt
JW: We’d argue that there’s never been a better time to self-publish. Whether you’re an established author writing a bestseller or an entrepreneur penning a guide to business success, the quality and price of digital printing has improved so dramatically that these books can genuinely compete with traditionally-published products.
And the digitization of the publishing process means that book metadata can also be globally distributed and amended at short notice.
More than marketing, price is the most effective selling tool for books and, with ebooks in particular, self-publishing authors don’t just have parity with traditional published authors, they have the advantage. Self-publishing authors retain control of their own price levers. This allows authors to make fast price changes; whether that’s for particular retailers or in different countries; whether for a limited period or long-term; whether raising the price or releasing a book for free.
Ahead? ‘In Talks With Publishers and Agents’
PP: Now that the platform is up and functioning, is it possible to look back and see anything you might have done differently in preparing the new product for market?
“We’re already looking at options for working with translation and audiobook partners.”Jon Watt
JW: How much space do you have!?
Developing a new technology platform is a vast undertaking, one which requires pulling together a huge range of skill sets. The end result is a platform that we feel offers an unparalleled self-publishing service, but it’s been a long road to get here, and we still have more features we want to add.
If we were to do it all again, we’d probably opt to develop the elements in stages and bring them online more gradually. It’s important for us to understand and listen to our users’ needs, therefore it’s crucial to launch early and improve and optimize as we move along.
PP: In many parts of the world, Amazon is thought to be all but unbeatable as a self-publishing platform in its Kindle Direct Publishing ecosystem. Is Bonnier’s interest with Type & Tell to challenge that perceived supremacy? Or is the idea more to offer a refined suite of capacities to stand alone and beside other platforms?
“We’re also in talks with a number of publishers and agents about bringing down typesetting costs and helping them to exploit unsold rights.”Jon Watt
JW: The Type & Tell platform is designed to work alongside retail channels to offer our users the biggest marketplace for their books.
Our focus is on helping those users who are looking to create professional print and ebooks. Print sales for self-published authors remain strong and, with falling POD costs, margins are increasing. We don’t take a cut of book sales, so Type & Tell authors get 100-percent royalties, which makes print book publishing even more attractive.
PP: What’s ahead for Type & Tell?—right now, you have the distinction of being the newest indie platform on the English-speaking block, after all.
JW: We’re keen to continue helping authors to gain easy access to more content platforms and, to this end, we’re already looking at options for working with translation and audiobook partners.
We’re also in talks with a number of publishers and agents about bringing down typesetting costs and helping them to exploit unsold rights.