In a move he describes as akin to “having your own minor-league baseball team,” Michael Wolf, GigaOm’s VP research, is launching his own digital publishing imprint, BSTSLLR. (In response, several minor-league baseball teams are dropping all vowels from their team names.) The first title, West Coast Crime Wave, is a collection of short stories by thriller authors and is $3.99 in the Kindle Store.
This is the democratization of publishing, Wolf says. Indie book publishers have been around for awhile–and, of course, plenty of authors decide to go it on their own–but this could be the start of a trend of what I’ll call self-published publishers: People who come out of the business or tech world (where they were, perhaps, critics of traditional book publishing) and decide to try their hand at publishing the works of others. A good earlier example is Seth Godin, who launched his Manifesto digital imprint with Amazon.
Wolf said he’s “always been curious about the economics of digital content.” As an avid crime and thriller reader, publishing a book in that genre made sense. GigaOm CEO Paul Walborsky has long been a fan of Kevin Kelly’s “1,000 true fans” principle, the idea that an artist needs 1,000 true fans, “who will purchase anything and everything you produce,” to succeed. Wolf believes that principle can be multiplied for a short story collection. “If you take a collection of mid-list fiction authors and put them together, you potentially have a culmination” of their thousand true fans, he said.
West Coast Crime Wave is edited by Wolf’s friend Brian Thornton; contributing authors include Terrill Lee Lankford, Steve Hockensmith and Naomi Hirahara, and many of those authors have previously published full-length books traditionally. Contributing authors were paid a flat fee for their work, and Wolf did not want to go into further details.
Book publishers have long attested that short story collections don’t sell; Wolf would respond they’re not trying hard enough. “Traditional publishers don’t do a lot of marketing for the midlist authors today,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s that they’re too busy trying to survive or they don’t have the budget.” I asked how he is marketing West Coast Crime Wave. “It’s not unlike politics,” he said. “I’m organizing and coordinating all the different authors and having them all communicate to their specific niches and audiences. I’m driving them to a common landing page and we created a book blog. We’re leveraging social media and talking to the press.”
In fact, many traditional publishers are doing the things that Wolf mentions, and it is a lot easier to do them for one title than it is for an entire list. Yet it’s true that, with limited marketing budgets, publishers often have to focus on the big titles, and smaller authors must pick up a lot of the marketing work themselves for a shot at success. A publisher of just one book can put a lot more time and effort into marketing that book.
Wolf is not going to be the publisher of just one book for long. He is now talking to East Coast crime writers for the next anthology. “I’d like to look at doing other genres, romance or horror,” he said. “In genre fiction, the readers are so voracious, it’s a ripe area to do things like this.”