Sunday, May 29, 2011

Unbound wants to be the Kickstarter for Books

... and what they really are is the editor-curated, agent-filtered Gluejar for books that haven't been written.

Ignoring the fact that tomorrow is Memorial Day (and why aren't you Brits out barbecuing anyway?), I feel compelled to write promptly about today's unveiling of Unbound, because many of the words being used to describe Unbound are similar to things I've written about Gluejar.

One of my early attempts to describe our model of "Ungluing eBooks" was that Gluejar would be "like Kickstarter for ten million books". I found that approximately 50% of the subjects tested were mystified by that description, and the other 50% got totally the wrong idea.

So the introduction of Unbound allows me the chance to compare and contrast Unbound, Kickstarter, and GlueJar.

Business model

Unbound is a conventional publisher that asks readers to pre-fund some or all of the fixed cost of producing a book that hasn't been written yet. Unbound tells you how many supporters a book needs, but not how much cash. Unbound doesn't tell you how much money they get or how much the authors get, and once a project is subscribed, Unbound publishes the book, and splits net profits 50/50 with the author.

Kickstarter is not a publisher at all. They just let creators ask for a specific amount of money to support their projects, including projects that might result in the production of a book. Kickstarter takes a 5% fee from funds raised; 100% of subsequent profits from a book go to the creator.

Gluejar won't be a publisher as the term is currently understood.  Gluejar will allow book lovers to pledge support for making books (that already exist) free to the world in a creative-commons licensed ebook edition. Authors retain commercial rights for print and other subsidiary rights. The price is set by the rights holder to match or exceed the income they would expect for future sales of the ebook; Gluejar takes a fee similar to Kickstarter's from funds raised.

Selection Process

Despite their slogan "Books are now in your hands", Unbound is using a selection process that's pretty much identical to how it already works. Book proposals will be carefully curated, and Unbound is only going to deal with submissions coming from literary agents. So if you're Monty Python's Terry Jones, great. I feel so empowered.

Kickstarter also reviews projects rather carefully to ensure quality. But anyone can propose a project, and it's clear from the projects on the site that it's relatively open to newcomers and nobodies with good ideas. It's really the crowd that decides what flies.

Gluejar will allow patrons to pick books for themselves. Although there are a huge number of books out there, you already know which ones you love. We're not sure how to extend the concept to new books or new authors.


Because Unbound acts as the publisher, supporters have a reasonable assurance that a completed project will actually deliver a book. On the downside, a book that has already been funded might turn out to be less than promised. The incentives encourage the author to split a narrative into multiple volumes, and if a book turns out to be bad, or perhaps just dull, the supporters don't get their money back. I don't know what Unbound means when it says that "All unused credits expire after 30 days."

Kickstarter doesn't do anything to assure that projects get completed. Supporters have to judge for themselves whether the creator is honest and worth supporting.

Gluejar will act as a trusted third party to make sure that good quality, Creative Commons editions are delivered to patrons of a successful pledge campaign. What Gluejar can't guarantee is that a rights holder with all the needed rights for relicensing a particular book will exist. That's why we'll let supporters spread their pledges onto lists of books.

Bottom Line

Unbound has launched with a very nicely done website. They've done a nice job of setting up reward levels and website features matched to book publishing. But Unbound is profoundly timid about putting publishing into the hands of the reader. It's more of a brilliant marketing gimmick than a publishing revolution; they've mapped out a healthy way to pre-sell an ebook for £10.

Thanks to @pablod, @julietalionetti and @muttinmall for a great discussion bringing out some of these issues.


  1. "Gluejar won't be a publisher as the term is currently understood. Gluejar will allow book lovers to pledge support for making books that already exist free to the world in a creative-commons licensed ebook edition."

    Better to use ( ) parentheses around (that already exist) otherwise the meaning leans towards "that already exist free"

  2. Thad- thanks, sentence tweaked.